NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When Pope Francis appears at Madison Square Garden on Friday, it will mark the second pope to visit the iconic arena.

As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, Pope John Paul II visited on his 1979 trip to the U.S., and that visit had a big impact on thousands in attendance – but one 6-year-old girl in particular.

Thirty-six years later, the girl – now a 42-year-old woman – talked to Carlin about that moment she said changed her life.

“Me and my experience with Pope John Paul II is amazing,” said Geralyn Smith of Bardonia, Rockland County.

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She called it her miracle moment with Pope John Paul II – captured forever in an iconic photograph. The pope lifted her out of the crowd at Madison Square Garden and over a railing, and placed her on top of the Popemobile.

“He had such a glow about him,” Smith said. “I remember his eyes being so beautiful.”

The instant connection, with Smith bobbing slightly to the music, came after a security guard got her mom’s permission to escort the shy little girl to the front row.

“It was a rough time in my life, and I think definitely after that, I felt blessed,” Smith said.

A year before, Geralyn’s father Donald, an NYPD detective, had died of pneumonia. She said the moment with the pope restored hope and strengthened faith for her family.

“Definitely, I believe my father was watching over me,” Smith said.

The pope’s meeting with Smith stands as one of Madison Square Garden’s 20 defining moments, with the iconic photo on display on Level 8 of the landmark venue.

Also in the display case is Smith’s original ticket and her rosary.

Carlin asked Smith what they should know about her when they see her picture and memorabilia at Madison Square Garden.

Her answer was, “Good things can happen to anybody; that even out of rough times, good things can happen.”

In 1995 in Central Park, Smith came face to face with Pope John Paul II again. She was seen in a black and white striped vest, taking part in the offertory procession — where she said he recognized her.

“Who would think they’d be able to see a pope twice in their lifetime?” she said. “Even once would be amazing, so to see him twice — unbelievable.”

Smith said back in 1979, she was wearing the colors of the Polish flag. She thinks that might have caught his eye.

She will be at Madison Square Garden again Friday night, once again with her mother.


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