By Patrick Mott, Editor, Orange County Catholic     2/11/2015

Guard meets girl.

Guard likes girl.

Girl likes guard.

Guard and girl go to Mass with the pope.

Guard and girl decide to get married.

And that’s the simple scenario. If you like simplicity.

If you’re a bit more of a romantic, though, this is only the framework for the sort of real-world fairy tale that even had one of the main characters pinching herself and wondering if she were dreaming it all. In the space of a few days, had she really begun a holiday at the Vatican, fallen in love with a dashingly handsome Swiss Guard and later gone with him to a private Mass with Pope Francis at the papal residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae? And, before the year was out, had she come back to Rome to plan her wedding with the guard and been selected to present one of the readings at the midnight papal Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica?

Like all good stories of this sort, it begins once upon a time back in October 2013, when Miranda Emde, a parishioner at St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach, embarked on a holiday trip to Rome with her mother. So taken by the Italian capital that she decided to investigate what it would take to live and work there “for about six months to a year.” While in St. Peter’s Square, Emde’s mother suggested she ask a Swiss Guard. The first guard they approached “didn’t speak English very well and turned out to be not very helpful,” says Emde. They approached a second guard near St. Anne’s Gate.

People have asked me what it was like to be there and be so close. I say it was like a little taste of heaven.

– Miranda Emde

“He was extremely helpful,” remembers Emde. “Very nice, older than the other guards, very charming and I remember thinking from the first minute, ‘Wow, there’s really something special about him.’ I had so much admiration for how he handled the people, bouncing between five languages. We talked for about 20 minutes or so, we exchanged information. He gave me his contact information, which they don’t usually do, and off we went, my mom and I, to fly back home.”

The man’s name was Jonathan Binaghi, a four-year veteran of the Swiss Guard and a veteran of the Swiss military who held degrees in history from the University of Lausanne.

Back in Huntington Beach, the emails began to fly.

“I thought, OK, he was very nice and there was definitely an attraction,” says Emde, Who works in wealth management marketing for Wells Fargo Bank in Newport Beach. “But what are the chances?” Still, the pair kept in frequent touch, and Emde already was planning a return trip to Rome in May for the canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

Back in Rome, Binaghi “said he wanted to spend time together during my trip so that we could really get to know each other,” says Emde. “I knew within a couple of days that he was the one, and so did he. I’d struggled with finding real gentleman—it’s really a difficult thing to find nowadays in our culture—but he’s like my real-life knight. He’s chivalrous, dignified, and a real man of God. It was like I almost couldn’t believe he really existed.”

Emde was back in Rome three months later for a two-week stay. Six days were spent in Binaghi’s home town in Switzerland—Stabio, near the Italian border. There, she met the family. “I met relatives, priest friends, everybody,” she says. “It was extremely wonderful. Switzerland is amazing and everyone was so warm and made me feel like part of the family.”

Miranda Emde

Back in Rome the night before her departure, the couple met for dinner “and he said, ‘You have to be up at 5 a.m. tomorrow. You’re going to Mass with Pope Francis at 7.’ I just about fell out of my chair.”

Binaghi had arranged for the pair to join a couple of dozen others for a liturgy celebrated by the pope in the small chapel beneath his residence.

“I was thinking, ‘Am I really here?’” says Emde. “You just feel his spirit of love, of kindness, of humility. After Mass he sat in a chair with us for about ten minutes and prayed with us in silence.” She finally met Pope Francis outside in a reception line. “I was in the line thinking, ‘Should I hug him, or what? How should I approach him?’ I was so nervous, even though he’s a very approachable person.”

The Holy Father was disarmingly friendly, however, and thanked Emde for coming and blessed a pair of rosaries she had brought along. “You really do feel the Holy Spirit when you’re in his presence,” she says. “He said he’d pray for us and he said, ‘Please pray for me, because I need it.’”

The best was yet to come. Emde and Binaghi had become engaged and decided to be married in Rome in October 2015. Emde returned to Rome last December to spend the Christmas holidays with her fiancé and plan the ceremony.

The month before, however, Binaghi had set the wheels in motion for his future wife to participate in the Christmas Eve midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. She was eventually assigned to pronounce the second reading at the Mass, which would be celebrated by her new friend, Pope Francis.

“We had two rehearsals on the morning of Christmas Eve where we did a walk-through, practiced the reading, tested the mike,” says Emde. “And then a final run-through two hours before Mass. I’d never done this before.”

St. Peter’s Basilica was packed to capacity, as was St. Peter’s Square outside. The liturgy was celebrated on St. Peter’s altar, Bernini’s great baldacchino towering over the figures below. Emde, dressed in a formal black gown and gloves, was seated in the second row.

“People have asked me what it was like to be there and be so close,” says Emde. “I say it was like a little taste of heaven. Looking around at all the people and thinking that after 2,000-plus years we still have the gift of the Mass and this is our Catholic Church. I just felt extremely blessed to be there. It was such an honor.

“I was SO nervous. I’ll never forget walking up and feeling the heart beating out of my chest and then in the left corner seeing Pope Francis right there and a sea of cardinals and the whole church was completely packed all the way back. And then all the people watching on TV in St. Peter’s Square. I remember just saying, ‘OK, Holy Spirit, take over. Don’t mess this up.’ And that’s exactly what happened. The words came out very smoothly.”

Afterward, as Emde and Binaghi emerged into St. Peter’s Square, “all of a sudden all these people start coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh, my God, are you the one who did the second reading? Oh, you did so well, can we take a picture with you?’”

The day ended quietly as Binaghi and Emde had dinner together in a nearby restaurant.

Binaghi plans to move to Orange County, where the couple will live after they marry. But first, the couple plans to request one last blessing—two, actually.

“Jonathan wants to go to the papal residence the day after our wedding so that we can get a blessing from Pope Francis,” says Emde. “And because Pope Benedict only lives about 100 yards away, we want to see if we can walk over there and get a blessing from him, too.”