The older brother of a baby girl who was kissed by the Pope during his visit in Philadelphia received a huge honor Tuesday as we learned of his sister's improving condition as she battles a brain tumor.
Dominic Masciantonio, 5, was made an Honorary Deputy U.S. Marshal during an event at the James E. Byrne Courthouse in Philly. Dominic was recognized for his support of his 1-year-old sister Gianna and his love for the law enforcement community.
Gianna first drew national attention when Pope Francis kissed her during his historic trip in Philly last year. Yet it was what brought her to that very moment that was truly remarkable.
Only two months after being born in 2014, Gianna was diagnosed with Juvenile xanthogranuloma, a rare form of histiocytosis, in her brain stem. The baby girl was not expected to survive.
“Gianna was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor,” said her father Joey Masciantonio.
Gianna underwent multiple brain surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy for the next several months. Then on September 26, 2015, just after Gianna celebrated her first birthday, the family received a phone call from a friend who happened to also be an FBI agent. The friend, who was among the hundreds of personnel guarding Pope Francis’ route during his trip to Philadelphia, told them to rush from their Doylestown, Bucks County home to downtown Philly as soon as they could. He was able to get them passes to see the Pope during his parade route down Market Street.
Two hours later, the family got a front row seat to see the pontiff near the Byrne Courthouse after he made his address at Independence Hall. Masciantonio told NBC News he held Gianna up as high as he could and got the attention of police and FBI agents who waved for the Pope’s motorcade to come over. The pontiff’s security spotted Gianna, grabbed her and took her to him. Pope Francis then kissed Gianna on the head and granted his blessing.
“It was the luck of the draw,” Masciantonio told NBC News. “We believe it was definitely a divine moment.”
Pope Francis did not know of Gianna’s condition at the time. Two months later, a new MRI revealed that her tumor, which had previously resisted chemotherapy treatments, had almost completely dissipated and her condition had improved dramatically.
After Pope Francis learned about Gianna’s story he continued to receive updates about her health. He also signed a picture of him kissing Gianna. The framed photo was given to the family Tuesday.
Masciantonio reflected on the drastic change in his daughter’s health during the ceremony.
“We don’t think the Pope healed our daughter,” he said. “She’s still in chemo now. It gave us hope. It gave us strength. It gave other people strength. That kiss meant more to my family than anyone could ever imagine.”