The story of Fr. Peter Srsich embodies the passage from Romans 8:28.
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When the then-17-year-old Peter Srsich returned from a canoe trip suffering from chronic fatigue and a cough, his family thought he might have pneumonia. The teen was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma when doctors discovered a large tumor on his lungs.
He underwent rounds of chemotherapy that left him feeling depressed and questioning why he was going through such an ordeal. Although he had a strong a faith and already felt called to the priesthood, in his hospital bed he was reluctant to receive the Communion. But as he later shared with Denver Catholic:
“I knew it would make my mom feel better if she saw me receive, so I was like, ‘all right fine, I’ll receive communion.’ This classmate of mine held up the host and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ And our Lord really showed himself, he revealed himself in a powerful way and he spoke into my heart, and I could definitely hear him in the in the depths of my heart. He said, ‘Peter, I know this is hard. I’m not going to take the suffering away from you, but I’m going to walk with you through it.'”
“It was kind of one of those moments where nothing had changed and everything had changed,” he said.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation, which offers children with life-threatening illnesses the chance to make a dream came true, reached out to Srsich. Rather unusually for a youngster, Peter wished to go to the Vatican and see the pope.
His gift co-ordinator LuAnn Griffin shared: “After meeting Peter, there was no doubt in my mind it was his true wish and it was going to play an important role in what he wants to do career-wise.”
Meeting the pontiff
In May 2012 his dream came true. Srsich, who traveled with his family, didn’t think he’d actually meet the pope. They went to St. Peter’s Square to see Pope Benedict XVI address the audience. The Srsich family were then asked to queue up to actually meet the pope.
In line, Peter could see the other dignitaries had expensive gifts to offer the pontiff. His father suggested he should give him the green band that he had on his wrist with the words “Pray for Peter” and the reference to Romans 8:28: “… And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” that Peter particularly appreciated.
Benedict XVI spoke to Peter and as he later shared: “He looked at me and said, “Oh, you speak English?” and put his hand on my chest right where the tumor had been, even though I had not mentioned it to him. The blessing is usually on the head.”
Peter also took the time to explain his story to the pope, and explained that he wanted to become a priest and asked for Benedict XVI’s blessing.
While some people believe the pope’s blessing worked miracles, Peter saw it somewhat differently; more in line with the passage from Romans: “Chemo helped me fight the cancer. Make-A-Wish helped me fight the chemo. Knowing the pope was in my future helped me get through that, and in a small, non-miraculous way, helped cure my cancer,” as he explained to ABC News in 2013.
And nearly a decade after his meeting with the pope, Peter Srsich was able to have a further wish come true. After God’s continued gentle calling, the 6′ 6″ former lacrosse player was ordained a priest in 2021, as you can see on his Facebook account.
As he shared his story in more detail with Denver Catholic, there is a beautiful takeaway of his experience:
“It’s beautiful to start to see the ways that God was preparing me for this vocation, for this call, to receive the sacrament of service that’s not for me, [but] for the people of God. He’s been able to use these different moments throughout my life, these different experiences throughout my life.”