MIAMI | A honeymoon in Italy and a personal blessing from Pope Francis: Seems like an awesome way to start a marriage.
Melissa Ulloa smiles at Pope Francis after giving him a hug.
And that is exactly how the Ulloas — Melissa, 28, and Ryan, 29 — began their wedded life. Attorneys working in Davie and Miami, respectively, the Ulloas were married at Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes Jan. 11, and two days later they were flying halfway around the globe to meet with Pope Francis.
Connections? Not really. It just took some additional planning as part of their honeymoon trip to Italy.
Every Wednesday morning in Rome, during the pope’s general audience, white-gowned brides and their tuxedo-clad grooms wait with eager patience for the Pontiff to walk toward them and extend a special “sposi novelli” blessing.
Ryan Ulloa hugs Pope Francis as his new bride, Melissa, looks on.
“Sposi novelli” is Italian for “newlywed couple,” and those who have been married within two months of that day’s general audience can have the privilege of greeting the pope and having him bestow a special blessing for a life of wedded bliss.
Melissa Ulloa prepared ahead of time by writing for “sposi novelli” tickets
to the papal audience. In the Archdiocese of Miami, the request is submitted through Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s priest-secretary, Father Richard Vigoa. The tickets grant access to a special area reserved for newlyweds.
Arriving early to St. Peter’s Square, the Ulloas, dressed in their nuptial attire, presented their tickets and a copy of their sacramental marriage certificate to the Swiss Guards, who ushered them and a dozen other sposi novelli to a separate entrance, then led them near the platform where Pope Francis would be giving his weekly reflection.
It was a cold, rainy day, Melissa Ulloa said. She and Ryan had to share an umbrella with another couple, but she was mostly worried that the pope would not greet them on account of the weather.
“But he came up to each one of us anyway,” she said.
As Cuban-Americans, the Ulloas wanted to greet Pope Francis in his native tongue, though it is not the language in which they are most comfortable.
“Hola, Papa,” was all star-struck Ryan Ulloa was able to say in Spanish.
His wife then chimed in and made the introductions, telling Pope Francis that they pray for him and find him to be an inspiration. Seeming pleased to meet other Hispanics, the pope asked the couple where they were from.
“We told him Miami but that our families are Cuban to which he responded with delight and excitement,” Melissa Ulloa recalled in a “thank-you” email to Father Vigoa afterwards.
After he blessed them and began to turn toward the next couple, she said she called out, “¡Un abrazo!” (A hug!)
“Si, niña, como no (Yes, child, of course),” Pope Francis answered, and he hugged them both.
Whether the exchange lasted a minute or just a few seconds, Melissa Ulloa could not say. “It was all so surreal.”
She said she hopes other couples could experience the blessing of such an opportunity.