I was born and raised a Catholic, and since today was All Souls' Day, visiting the Myeongdong Cathedral and saying a prayer for all the departed are part of my observance of this Catholic holiday. But since I usually couldn't catch the Holy Mass during my lunch break from office (it's a working day in Korea), I just say the rosary.
And today, when I brought out my rosary, I remembered a story, which becomes spookier every time I think about it. Why? Well, it's a long story, which I am finally prepared to write about.
In 2010, I flew to Rome, Italy, to visit my friends Margarita and Maurizio. I first met them in Seoul, and have been great friends with them since. They are such a warm and wonderful couple.
My flight from Incheon International Aiport on an Emirates Airlines flight had a stopover at Dubai International Airport, where I would take another Emirates flight to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, Italy.
And this was where it all started.
After about a seven-hour stopover at Dubai International, passengers for my flight queued to enter the pre-departure area. And while I was queuing, there was a nun, standing next to a column with her small hand-carry. She just stood there, and I wondered. Since all the people around this gate were all bound for Rome, I wondered why wasn't she falling in line? So, I made a space between me and the lady in front of me, then waived and signaled to the nun to take the spot before me. The guy behind me saw this and I think he agreed to the idea. After all, most of the passengers must be visiting the Vatican City while in Rome, which is definitely her territory.
But she declined with a wave of her right hand and pointed to the bigger hand-carry a foot away. Then I realized, someone must have asked her to watch it. What?! This nun was about in her 70's. She had a Mother Teresa profile: white, pale skin, medium height and frail-looking. And somebody turned her into a babysitter of a luggage? (I later learned that the owner was a Southeast Asian woman who was going back to her work in Italy. She was not Filipino, but I think I know her nationality.)
Then, one by one, we all entered the pre-departure area after the inspection of our boarding passes, except the nun, who was left to watch somebody's luggage.
I had been sitting at the pre-departure area for a few minutes now, when the nun finally came in with her light hand-carry, black handbag. When I saw her, I signaled her to sit next to me. And she did. Since she looked Italian, I thought what better way to practice my Italian with a real Italian.
So, I introduced myself to her in three flawless Italian sentences (maybe the only full Italian sentences I'd ever speak), and she said she was Sister Beneditta. While trying to carry a conversation, I asked her where I could buy rosaries in Rome, and she mentioned to me Via Della Conciliazone, which she said was right next to the Vatican City. I noted it down.
I also asked her what was her order and where did her flight originated from. She was talking in Italian, and I was trying to catch some words I could understand. She mentioned something about a 'miraculous medal', which must be her order, and she said she just flew in from Kerala (which was in India).
As we were talking, she opened her black bag and took out a small, rectangular plastic case. She gave it to me. I realized it was a rosary! I immediately blurted, "Molto grazie, Sister. Oi sono felice!" (Thank you. I am very happy!).
I opened the case and held the blue rosary. I immediately thought that this was her own rosary, which she was giving to me, a stranger! And if she had used this in her prayers, this rosary must have been blessed already! A blessed gift! And I hadn't even set foot in Rome yet!
Then the announcement came. They were now accepting passengers with seats at the back rows, and I had to go ahead. The rows where Sister Beneditta was assigned weren't called yet. So, I put the the blue rosary back in its case and put it in my bag and rose. I thanked her again and left.
During the six-hour flight from Dubai to Rome, I remembered I tried to look for Sister Beneditta on the plane. I only had to see who was wearing a white habit, but I wasn't able to find her. Although I wasn't sure if she was seated in business class. Otherwise, she would have boarded way ahead of every one else. I think her seat was in row 'H', if I remember right. She showed me her boarding pass earlier when they announced the boarding process.
I thought she was just somewhere in the plane.
But when we arrived at Fiumicino Airport, I tried to look for her again. She was frail and I thought she wouldn't be able to walk as fast as everyone else. So, when we got the immigration line, I expected to see her there. I would just look again for a nun in a white habit.
There were only two immigration officers screening the passengers. Only two long lines. I was craning my neck and tried to look for her at the front and at the back of both lines, but still, no Sister Beneditta.
Did she get through the immigration already? That fast?
Or perhaps, she had a special arrangement that she was just whisked off like a VIP.
Or maybe, she arranged for a wheelchair and was accorded a quick pass from the plane up to the immigration.
Sister Beneditta just simply disappeared! Was she for real? Well, I think so. I still have her blue rosary.
But until now, I still could not shake off the mystery on why I wasn't able to find her on the plane and at least, at the immigration line.
Whatever you were, Sister Beneditta, a nun, an angel or just a fellow passenger, and wherever you are now, molto grazie again. I will always treasure your gift to this stranger.