With just months to live, Corinne Barber feared her dream of visiting the Vatican would die with her amid spiralling costs and failing health.
But thanks to hundreds of online donations and support of the Church, she has not only made the pilgrimage but received a blessing from the Pope.
The 42-year-old from Leith made the trip with mother Irene and husband Andrew, spending the week in the Vatican City thanks to well-wishers from her GoFundMe page and the efforts of the Archbishop of Edinburgh.
She was so frail that her family had to wait until she felt strong enough to travel, otherwise it was feared she might not survive the trip.
But today she returned “energised” after the journey of a lifetime, describing her pilgrimage as “the most wonderful experience imaginable”.
Speaking out for the first time about meeting Pope Francis, Corinne told how she felt “warmth” flow through her when he placed his hand firmly on her head and smiled at her.
She described the meeting as an “affirmation” of her faith which had brought her peace and virtually taken away her fear of death.
“The whole experience has been beautiful and extremely emotional,” she said. “I have had the honour of seeing the Sistine chapel, the Apostolic Palace and have been brought to tears visiting the chambers under the Basilica and seeing the bones of St Peter. But, of course, the highlight of my trip was receiving the blessing from Pope Francis.
“Towards the end of the service he descended and moved to meet those in wheelchairs personally. He walked amongst us – greeting and touching the hands of many.
“Then he stopped in front of me and touched my head and blessed me. It was the most wonderful experience imaginable.
“Afterwards, I went back to my hotel and slept solidly for six hours.”
Corinne’s brother Darren Barber, 43, from North Berwick – who set up the GoFundMe fundraising page, entitled Help with Corinne’s Final Wish, in September – was delighted when the public rallied behind the campaign and that the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh offered his support.
He said: “The whole family would like to thank everyone who has supported the GoFundMe campaign and made this trip a reality for Corinne. For myself, I would like to say to those who donated that no matter how much you gave it would not have happened without you.
“Take any one of those kind and generous people out and the trip wouldn’t have happened. It has been a truly challenging and wonderful experience which has inspired me to now consider making ‘Corinne’s Wish’ a formal charity that will help others. It’s very early days but I would love to help other people and do it all again, if I possibly can.”
Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who worked behind the scenes to secure the papal audience, added: “We are thrilled that Corinne finally made a pilgrimage to the Vatican and also that she received an audience with Pope Francis.
“It’s a dream come true or, rather, a prayer answered and we were delighted to play our part – along with many others – in making it happen.”
GoFundMe, the world’s most popular fundraising website, provides a platform for people to raise money for personal causes and life events and invite those in their community to support their fundraising.
Kelsea Little, of GoFundMe.com, said: “We are delighted Corinne finally made her pilgrimage to the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Francis. We hope the family have some magical memories they can treasure forever.”