Va. boy says farewell to his friend, the pope

Far away from the Vatican and miles from the halls of Congress, a little boy named Brendan Kelly from Great Falls, Va., is mourning Pope John Paul II, a man he considers a personal friend.

“He prayed for the pope every night. We wouldn’t have to remind him,” said Brendan’s father, Frank Kelly, head of government affairs for Deutsche Bank. “He knew the pope was praying for him.”

In September 2001, 4-year-old Brendan — whose grandfathers are Frank Kelly Sr., a top aide for Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), and Charles McCarthy Jr., a partner at the law firm O’Connor and Hannan — visited the pope at the Vatican through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to critically ill children.

At the time, Brendan, who has Down syndrome, was seriously ill with leukemia, and the Kellys were not sure how much time he had to live. After nearly missing an audience with the pope, the family attended Mass and then proceeded to meet with the pontiff. Very excited, the boy ran up to the pope and stood next to him for the duration of the audience. As other families paid their respects, the pontiff periodically patted the boy on the head and winked at him.

At the end of the visit, as his family was leaving, Brendan ran toward the pontiff and said, “Bye, Pope!” Pope John Paul II turned around and shook the boy’s hand, smiling.

Upon hearing, while on a family vacation in Jamaica, that the pope was ill, Kelly told Brendan, now 7 years old and in remission for two years, about the pope’s condition.

“I told him, ‘I have some sad news for you,’” Kelly said. He explained to his son that the pope was very sick and might die. “He told me, ‘No, he’ll be OK.’”

When the pope passed away Saturday, Kelly took Brendan aside and explained that the pope had gone to heaven.

“He said, ‘OK,’ and went about his life,” Kelly said. Later, Brendan informed Kelly that he had spoken to the pope, through prayer, and the pope had told him, “I love Jamaica. Have a good time.”

McCarthy, who was with the Kellys in Jamaica, said, “At the time I was sensitive that this child and his father were upset by the reality that the pope was passing on.” When he asked Kelly how Brendan was dealing with the news, the answer surprised him.

“Brendan was in full accord with the notion that the pope was going home to God. That’s kind of the way Brendan looks at things,” Kelly said.

“Shaking hands with the Holy Father has had a tremendous impact in his life,” said Frank Kelly Sr., adding that Brendan has a picture of Pope John Paul II in his bedroom. “He is only seven years old and has gained a great devotion” to the faith.

Brendan’s father said the family plans to watch the papal funeral that will take place Friday morning at 4 Eastern time.

“He will see the pope as his friend for the rest of his life,” he said.