Addison Schmidt could have asked for anything. She could have traveled to Tahiti, chatted with a movie star, or splurged on a shopping spree.
When the Archbishop Murphy High School senior made her choice, “she thought it was a little too big of a wish,” said Kim Schmidt, Addison’s mom.
On March 16, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, the teen’s wish came true. She came face to face with Pope Francis. She received a papal blessing and was stunned to be shaking the pope’s hand.
A year ago, Addison was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital on April 3, 2015. That was Good Friday. After six weeks of daily proton radiation therapy through Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, she is cancer-free.
Her wish to see Pope Francis was granted by Make-A-Wish of Alaska &Washington. Jessica Mathews, communications manager for the nonprofit foundation, said Addison’s wish is one of 368 being granted this year by the region’s chapter. “We meet with each wish child, and really spend time getting to know the family to find out what their one true-heart wish is,” Mathews said.
While the organization initiated plans for Addison’s wish in Seattle, Make-A-Wish Italy took care of arrangements in Rome. The expenses-paid trip lasted March 12-20.
Every Wednesday, thousands crowd St. Peter’s Square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica for the weekly papal audience. Kim and Bill Schmidt, Addison’s parents, were part of that crowd March 16. Addison and her 22-year-old sister Annie were among a group of pilgrims, about 30 in all, seated up front. They were at the end of the front row.
As Pope Francis approached, Addison said, “We were whispering and trying to figure out what to do. What do you say to the pope?”
From about 20 rows back, her parents saw what happened. “He shook their hands,” Kim Schmidt said. “This was amazing. They were just was speechless in front of this man.”
The Schmidts, who live in Marysville, are Roman Catholic. Before high school, Addison attended Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Everett and St. Thomas More Parish School in Lynnwood.
During her junior year at Murphy, Addison was feeling twitches in her legs. She then suffered a seizure, which led to being diagnosed with a grade 3 ependymoma, a cancerous brain tumor.
Just after the diagnosis, while having to absorb the emotional wallop and a staggering amount of information, the Schmidts were told about Make-A-Wish. They learned there are four types of wishes granted: travel or an outing to a sporting event; a role-playing experience, perhaps as a ballerina or police officer; meeting a celebrity or public figure; or a gift, such as a computer or shopping spree.
“Celebrities vary in how much they do. The best we can do is ask,” Mathews said.
Wishes aren’t just about the day they happen. “It’s the planning and anticipating — something to look forward to,” Mathews said. “And after they return, they have amazing memories. Sometimes children are facing more hospital visits.” Addison is finished with radiation, but still has MRI scans every three months.
Kim Schmidt said that during a time of worry, looking forward to the trip helped them think about something positive.
There were no assurances Addison would be shaking Pope Francis’ hand. At St. Peter’s Square, Addison and her sister were allowed into the small group their mother described as “sick pilgrims.”
Before the blessing, the pontiff cruised through the crowd in his popemobile. The Wednesday gatherings aren’t Masses, but the pope delivered a message translated into many languages. After his message, he approached Addison.
“He took his time with each person,” she said. Around her, some hugged him and called out ‘Papa, Papa.’”
Shaking his hand was the highlight, but the family also had a guided half-day tour of the Vatican and a visit to the Colosseum and other sites from ancient Rome. Addison was taken by the beauty of Trevi Fountain. “She also fell in love with cappuccinos,” her mother said.
After all she had endured, Addison said seeing Pope Francis strengthened her faith. “Being there showed me how proud I am to be a Catholic,” she said.
The family has much to look forward to this year. Annie Schmidt will graduate from Washington State University in May. June will bring Addison’s graduation day. She may follow in her sister’s footsteps and attend WSU, but is considering the University of San Francisco. She hopes to study kinesiology and become a chiropractor like her father.
“A year ago, we didn’t know where we were going to be,” Kim Schmidt said. “Now it feels like we’ve had so many blessings.” Her daughter agrees. “We ended the year on such a high note,” Addison said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make-A-Wish of Alaska &Washington is a nonprofit that grants wishes to children, ages 2-and-a-half to 18, who have been treated for life-threatening medical conditions. Information: http://akwa.wish.org/