The anxiety inherent in preparing four young children to meet a world leader has ended. In its place is a peaceful, happy memory of Pope John Paul II, a memory that the Spivey family will cherish the rest of their lives.
"Forever and ever," said 6-year-old Erika.
The Eldersburg family, members of St. Joseph Catholic Community, carried the offertory gifts to the altar set up at Camden Yards last week. Before a crowd of about 50,000, the pope accepted the gifts from their hands.
"We were honored and humbled to be chosen," said Karen Spivey. "It meant absolutely everything to us to meet someone that important to the church, when the church is that important in our lives."
Thousands prayed in silence last week as Karen and Charlie Spivey followed their children solemnly to the altar. As they ascended the few steps, the youngest child, 21-month-old Jacob, escaped his mother's grasp and quickly climbed onto the pope's lap.
"Jacob is a solid 25 pounds," his mother said with a laugh. "You can tell why the pope couldn't lift him."
"The pope did kiss him," said Erika. "He kissed us all on the head."
Hours earlier, the parents had left their Eldersburg home with four sleepy children in tow. They made one brief stop on the way to pick up their pastor, the Rev. Ted Cassidy.
Father Cassidy had selected the Spiveys for the honor a year ago, when the Vatican announced plans for a papal visit.
"I chose them because I find them to be good at trying to live the Christian life," said the pastor. "They are raising their children to understand Christianity today."
The family rehearsed many times for its part in the Mass.
"It was like going to church on Sunday, but this time on the baseball field," said Erika.
The last rehearsal, at the stadium the day before the pope's arrival, was a little unsettling, Mrs. Spivey said.
"It looked like so much was still to be done," she said. "But when we arrived early Sunday, the stadium actually felt like a place of worship."
The family remained in a nursery and watched much of the service and the sermon on the television.
"His message is stern, and there are no loopholes," Mrs. Spivey ** said. "But, he is welcoming and doesn't judge you."
Despite rehearsals and hours of preparation, the Spiveys said, they felt nervous when it was time to walk out onto the field.
"There were a lot of people," said Erika, who carried the bread the pope blessed during the Mass. "I carried the bread, and it wasn't heavy."
Her father carried a ciborium filled with smaller communion wafers. Carlin, 5, helped her sister.
"He looks like a grandfather," Carlin said of the pope.
Father Cassidy said, "The gifts brought to the altar represent ourselves. We offer them up to God."
The children all received the pope's gentle kiss.
"He kissed me on my head," said Robin, 3.
The pope then blessed each parent separately.
"He was quiet and difficult to understand," said Mrs. Spivey. But she heard him clearly when he said, "God bless you as the mother of these children," she said.
Father Cassidy said he will long remember the moment.
"The children were so innocent, so close to what is of God," he said. "And they were so lovingly received."
Mrs. Spivey found the pope to be "such a welcoming person. I felt that right away. And, he has such an affinity for children."
The pope smiled and tried in vain to count the children. He asked the mother "how many" and handed each a rosary, Mrs. Spivey said.
"I took my rosary to school and went around the room and showed everybody," Carlin said.
Erika plans to save her rosary "forever and ever" and to use it to say her "Hail Marys."
The older children attend Holy Family Catholic School in Randallstown and have a sense of what the pope represents, their mother said. The younger two "knew what they were doing was special," she said.
Still, Jacob almost found himself in the arms of the nearest security guard and out of the family's few minutes with the pope.
"An almost-2-year-old without a nap can be a reason to pray for divine intervention," said his mother, who added that her petition worked miraculously.
The Spiveys have had a brief moment of fame this week, as
friends and family have called to say they saw them on television.
Friends made a videotape of the Mass, and the Spiveys have already watched it several times.