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Heart Patient Risks All for Moment With Pope

August 15, 1993|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

DENVER — Frank Robert Rocha's frail body seemed so inconsequential beneath the vaulted Gothic ceiling of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

His doctor had told him not to make the arduous journey from Amarillo, Tex., to Denver to see the Pope because his heart could not take it. He was told that he had just six months to live.

But John Paul II was at the altar. Rocha heard the words to the hymn being sung: "Can you hear them crying, Can you feel their pain? Will you feed my hungry, Will you help my lame?"

Rocha was where he wanted to be.

He had managed to get inside the cathedral even though he was not among the select few World Youth Day participants chosen by lottery to attend the papal Mass.

As the Mass ended and the young people waited in line to receive a papal blessing, Rocha, 25, was told he could not go forward, so he got up to leave, limping out the side door of the cathedral transept. He was barely noticed by the joyous throng as tears streamed down his cheeks.

Someone heard his story and asked a priest to intervene. Within minutes, Rocha was kneeling at John Paul's feet.

The Pope listened. A whispered request. A whispered benediction. John Paul leaned forward and embraced Rocha, who pressed his head against the Pope's heart. They tarried but a moment as John Paul pressed a rosary into Rocha's hand. Rocha rose, smiling broadly and crying, this time for joy.

As he walked laboriously out of the cathedral on the arm of a stranger, the cathedral's bells began to peel.

"I prayed every day to meet him," he told the stranger. "I finally did. Being sick is a blessing."

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