Pope Francis' blessing of baby with rare condition gives parents hope

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Just weeks after baby Gianna was born, a medical team at CHOP told her parents, Kristen and Joe Masciantonio, their time with her could be a matter of days.

Their baby girl, named after Saint Gianna, had been diagnosed at the time with what doctors believed was an inoperable brain tumor.

Later, they would find out she was actually suffering from a rare disease called systematic JXG.

"We did all the things that no parent should have to do - we planned funerals, we made arrangements," said Joe Masciantonio.

However, the Masciantonio's said that did not seem to be in God's plan.

It was shortly after the devastating news, Kristen had a dream that Gianna was standing with Saint Gianna and Pope Francis.

A couple weeks later, Saint Gianna was named the patron saint of this year's World Meeting of Families, and Kristen decided she would make her dream come true.

"I knew in my heart it would happen. I didn't know how it would happen, but I believed it would happen," said Kristen Masciantonio.

During her treatment, Gianna reached a miraculous milestone - she turned 8 months old.

And this past weekend, the Masciantonio's said, brought another one.

Friend and FBI agent Donnie Asper was stationed on the pope's route Saturday. He told Kristen and Joe to be there.

As the pope rode by, Asper brought Gianna to Pope Francis and he blessed her.

"The kiss was amazing, but when you turn around and see these guys who are the toughest guys in the world and every one of them is on their knees crying - the scene in general was divine," said Joe Masciantonio.

The Pope's blessing, unprompted kindness of family, friends and strangers and 1-year-old Gianna's fighting spirit - all reasons her parents said they will continue to believe.

"They were small acts of kindness from each step of the way, and it couldn't have happened any other way," said Asper. "We couldn't have planned this months out."

After Pope Francis blessed Gianna, an email was sent out to members of the FBI, which made it to the head of the pope's security detail who explained Gianna's condition to Francis.

FBI agents told Kristen and Joe, the pope then prayed for little Gianna before arriving at the Knotted Grotto Sunday.

"She's going to be OK. ... A sign for me to hold on to the faith," said Kristen Masciantonio.
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