As a member of a small, official U.S. delegation, Martinez sat about 20 yards from the canopied altar in St. Peter’s Square, where Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was installed as the 266th pope on March 19.
Throughout the ceremony, Martinez clutched a youthful photograph of her mother, Paula Martinez, attending First Holy Communion.
Paula Martinez died of cancer in 2006 at age 71, seven years to the day before Pope Francis’ installation, and Martinez said she believes her mother played some role in Martinez’s selection in the U.S. delegation.
“As a Catholic, you believe in things you can’t see,” Martinez said in a phone interview.
Martinez said she practices her Roman Catholic faith “in private moments” and through her work, though she is not registered with a church and does not attend Mass regularly.
She was among 200,000 who packed St. Peter’s Square for the installation Mass.
During the three-hour ceremony, the first Latin American Pope blessed the photo of Martinez’s mother along with rosaries clutched by people in the crowd, Martinez said.
The four-member U.S. delegation flew to Rome aboard Air Force Two on March 17. Martinez had flown to Washington, D.C., shortly after the New Mexico legislative session adjourned on March 16.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had declined an invitation to join the delegation, saying he had pressing duties in the House. Martinez was then invited to participate.
During the seven-hour flight, Martinez said she spoke with Biden about funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory, including the need to remove transuranic waste from Los Alamos to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
Martinez said she was struck by the warmth and kindness of her fellow travelers to Rome, who included U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Georgetown University President John DeGioia and Biden. All are Roman Catholics.
On the day before the installation, the four attended a reception in Rome organized by Biden and attended by dignitaries and Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world.
Pelosi, who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007-11, helped Martinez navigate in a room of world leaders, she said.
Pelosi “was very kind in introducing me to dignitaries that I did not know,” Martinez said.
Pope Francis’ installation Mass was attended by political leaders of 130 countries and representatives of many faiths.
The day of the installation Mass, Pelosi also helped Martinez find a choice spot where they could observe the pope enter St. Peter’s Square by vehicle, she said.
“I really enjoyed their company,” Martinez said. “This was something we did together based on our faith.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal