A blessing delivered


WHEN TWO seemingly unrelated events converge, some call it coincidence. Perhaps.

Ty Sigler believes it's no coincidence that he received a letter with a message from Pope John Paul II within half an hour after the pontiff died April 2. It contained a rosary blessed by the pope and a photograph with his name at the bottom.

Mr. Sigler, 65, of Reisterstown, has been disabled since 1987 because of a car accident. He has liver cancer and heart problems. The Vatican letter dated March 18 was in response to a letter Mr. Sigler had mailed to the pope in late January. In it, Mr. Sigler said, he voiced his concern for the pope's health and said that "I mentioned my own health. I asked him: Is there any way I could get a rosary? I wished him the best."

The Vatican letter was posted from the Apostolic Nunciate, Washington, D.C.: "The Holy Father has received your letter and he has asked me to reply in his name. He appreciates your concern for his health. ... In accord with your request, I am herewith enclosing a rosary which the Holy Father has blessed. Yours sincerely, Monsignor Gabriele, Caccia, Assessor."

"When I got this in the mail, I couldn't stop crying," Mr. Sigler said. "I shook like a leaf. He had just died. ... You never really realize the importance of an individual until they are gone from you."

Skeptics may view the rosary and the accompanying photograph of the pope as merely standard items distributed to the faithful, as common as souvenirs handed out by politicians to an admiring public. For Mr. Sigler, these keepsakes are precious and laden with symbolism.

The rosary is made of thick metal. Mr. Sigler noted this, plus the significance of the unusually shaped crucifix. It resembles the crucifix on the bishop's staff that accompanied the pope on his numerous journeys throughout his nearly 27 years as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

He is positive that the signature at the bottom of the photograph is Pope John Paul's, written with a ballpoint pen.

"I honestly feel like I knew him. ... He had a force that came out of his eyes of nothing but pure strong love. You could see from his eyes he didn't have a mean bone in his body," Mr. Sigler said.

He said he felt this way the first time he watched Pope John Paul on TV.

Then there is the lump in Mr. Sigler's sternum caused by liver cancer that shrank from "golf ball-size to pea-size" after he received a blessing in late January from Monsignor James V. Hobbs, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. He felt the blessing from his "head to ... toes."

That and the message from Pope John Paul had an impact. "Not one but two miracles have been performed on me since the latter part of January," Mr. Sigler said. "Nobody on the face of this Earth could feel as wonderful as I feel because of what happened."

He was so affected by the blessing and the papal letter that he called Monsignor Hobbs on April 2 and told him he wanted to convert to Catholicism. He was "born and raised Amish - of the Protestant faith." He said, "I'm doing this in honor of Pope John Paul II."

Monsignor Hobbs was so moved by Mr. Sigler's story about receiving a letter from the pope on the day he died that the monsignor spoke about Mr. Sigler during his sermon on April 2.

For Ty Sigler, Pope John Paul is gone in physical form only. "He is here spiritually, and will be forever."

Mr. Sigler's story is emblematic of how the charismatic Pope John Paul II had a way about him that awakened faith in people, that inspired belief in miracles - a belief that caused so many to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Algerina Perna is a photographer for The Sun.

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