ROME — Cheryl Tobin, a former master sergeant with the U.S. Army who used her military might to flag down the pope for a blessing, died in her sleep New Year’s Eve. She was 48.

Terminally ill with a rare form of cancer, Tobin went on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi in May thanks to the generosity, prayers and assistance of many people who wanted to help her fulfill her dream.

Despite the fatigue that came from radiation treatments, chemotherapy and surgery, Tobin was able to climb the Holy Stairs on her knees, climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, and climb atop a plastic chair to wave hard and high above the crowds during Pope Francis’s general audience May 11.

Her enthusiasm caught the guards’ attention and they let her pass the barricades to meet the pope and receive his blessing and embrace.

“I started crying when I saw him. I was overwhelmed with emotion,” she told Catholic News Service back in May, right after her memorable meeting.

Jim Tobin, Cheryl’s husband, alerted friends and supporters late December 31 that Cheryl had passed away that morning.

She had been sick, he said in a group email, but after he cleaned and comforted her and gave her pain medication, “I kissed her and she was able to kiss me back in return and she seemed comfortable and at ease.”

“I know she is watching us from above. She is now pain free and in a better place,” he wrote, thanking everyone for all their prayers and support.

The funeral was to be held in Clarksville, Tennessee, January 6 followed by a vehicle procession to Kentucky Veterans Cemetery 30 miles away in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where she also was to receive military honors.