Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part Two: The Cross and the Hill

1000Just when you think things couldn’t get more exciting, Pope Francis takes things to a new level.  That’s the way it felt in Washington the day after the Canonization Mass at The Catholic University of America.  The pope, of course, was about to do something no other pope had ever done before: address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.  But before turning to that address in the next post, I want to offer some personal observations surrounding the event.

220px-Farr-Portrait-2013On a personal level, the pilgrims from the Diocese of Monterey were blessed by the great generosity of Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA, 20th District) and his staff.  Mr. Farr not only obtained tickets for a diocesan-sponsored pilgrimage group; he invited Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia to attend the pope’s speech in the Gallery of the Chamber itself.  Retired Monterey Bishop Sylvester Ryan was seated in a caucus chamber, and still another room was prepared for additional visitors from his District, and still others were outside watching on Jumbotrons.  So, pilgrims from the Diocese were found everywhere that historic day.  Once more, a very public “thank you” to Congressman Farr and his entire staff!

IMG_0734 (2)My own responsibilities that day included a very special mission.  Some weeks ago at the Vatican, the Pope was shown the actual cross worn by Father Junipero Serra over his Franciscan habit.  He asked that it be made available during the Mass of Canonization, so Bishop Garcia personally carried the relic to Washington, where he provided it to the papal Master of Ceremonies.  The day after the Mass — which was the same day as the Pope’s speech to Congress — was the first time we could retrieve the relic for its return to the Carmel Mission where St. Junipero is buried.  Since the Bishop had to head into the Gallery, he asked me to pick up the cross.  So, after driving the bishops to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, I returned to the Basilica and met with Msgr. Rossi, the Rector.  The cross had been safely preserved in the sacristy where the Pope had vested for the Canonization Mass, and I carefully returned it to its box for the Bishop to transport it back to California.  Mission accomplished, I returned to Capitol Hill and was able to see the last half of the Pope’s remarkable address [see the next post].

IMG_1814Following the papal address, Congressman Farr and his staff laid on a light lunch for all of us, and then he gave a few of us a brief tour of the House, including the part of Statuary Hall containing the statue of St. Junipero Serra; the only other State represented by a saint is Hawai’i, with its statue of St. Damien of Molokai.  In an interesting bit of trivia, the masking tape was still on the floor in front of the statue of St. Junipero showing where the Pope and the Congressional leadership had stood only moments before.  The Congressman, as indeed all of us, had been moved by the positive tone of the pope’s address.  He remarked that it was exactly the kind of message our lawmakers needed to challenge them out of the overarching negativity and polarization that seems to have frozen them into indecision and inaction.

It was on this wonderful, positive, and very personal note that we left the Hill.  Some of us departed Washington shortly thereafter, some of us returning to California, while some of the bishops headed off to New York and/or Philadelphia.

Let’s now take a closer look at the remarkable address Pope Francis delivered to the Congress.

The Pope in DC: Preparatory Thoughts

Ever since the Pope announced his first-ever visit to the United States, preparations began.  Then, as his plans expanded from Philadelphia to New York to Washington, DC, matters became even more hectic.  Then, the surprise announcement of his intention to canonize Franciscan Junipero Serra during his time in Washington, and the jump was made into hyperspace.  Today, in Washington, all of those preparations could be seen coming together.

In front of BasilicaIt was a cloudy, cool day by Washington standards, and later in the afternoon, the clouds opened and, as one hotel worker remarked, it felt like Winter had arrived, not the Fall!  I am here for several reasons.  I am a deacon ordained and incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, so this is my home archdiocese in ecclesial terms, and it is good to be back here on that level alone.  In fact, as a DC Deacon, I have served here on the Archdiocesan staff as well as on the senior staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  So, when we took the Red Line to the Brookland/CUA Metro stop this morning, the closest stop for the Catholic University, and right across the street from the USCCB, I felt immediately back at home.

But the other reason I’m here is to accompany and assist the Bishop of Monterey in California, Richard J. Garcia, on whose staff I serve currently.  Soon-to-be Saint Junipero Serra founded many missions in California, and seven of them are located within the Diocese of Monterey, with Serra himself buried in the sanctuary of his favorite mission at Carmel.  The bishop was asked to come to Washington a bit early to meet with numerous press outlets to speak of the canonization and its meaning for Catholics today.  He asked me and a couple of our priests to assist with the interviews so much of the day was spent responding to those press requests.IMG_1737

It was wonderful to watch the preparations on the campus of the Catholic University.  I did my doctoral work here, and watching the students going about their normal business while others were setting up chairs, workers putting the final touches on the altar and sanctuary on the East side of the Basilica, and technicians conducting never-ending sound checks: it was all very exciting.  Eventually we headed back to our hotels to get ready for tomorrow.  Our pilgrimage group has made it safely, and we’ll meet with them for breakfast tomorrow before they head out on their DC adventures.  Other clergy and laity are also heading in, many of whom will be helping with the Papal Mass on Wednesday.

IMG_1732As I’ve written before, it will be important to keep in mind all of the “moving parts” of the Pope’s visit, which has already begun — in Cuba.  That part of the trip is closely linked, intentionally I am sure, to the pastoral visit to the United States.  The Pope will pray with the bishops of the United States on Wednesday morning at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, have lunch with them at the St. John Paul II Cultural Center near the Catholic University, and then the Mass later in the afternoon.  Then the next day, Thursday, the Pope will address a joint session of Congress, the first time a pope has ever done that.  While Californians are focused on the canonization of Father Serra, I think most Washingtonians, and perhaps most Americans, are more interested in the Congressional address, which promises to be an exciting challenge to every part of the American political spectrum.

And then, of course, the Pope leaves for New York and Philadelphia.  I hope simply to reflect and report on my impressions of the DC portion of the apostolic journey.

For now, please keep Pope Francis in your prayers, that he travels in safety and good health, and that his mission of spreading the Good News is met with joy and enthusiasm!

The Synod on the Family: Curtain Up on Act II

Beatification Paul VIToday we experienced the ringing down of the curtain on Act I of the synodal process on the Family.  Pope Francis closed the Extraordinary Synod today with Mass in St. Peter’s Square and the beatification of Blessed Paul VI.

But the process has only just begun!  Perhaps the best road map to the future is found in the Pope’s speech on Francis at SynodSaturday closing the final work session of the Extraordinary Synod.  In fact, I believe that this beautiful speech deserves to be read in its entirety; you may find it in English translation here, and if you read Italian you can read it as the Pope delivered it, here.  It is spiritually rich, and it also gives us wonderful insights into the Holy Father’s dreams for the next steps in the process.

Act II, which has now begun, takes place over the next twelve months.  Act III will be Ordinary Synod on the Family to be held in October 2015.  Here’s how the Pope explained it in his speech:

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

US BishopsUsing the Synod’s Relatio, the various bishops’ conferences around the world will be discussing its contents and mapping out their specific courses of action for their dioceses.  For example, here in the United States, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will have it on their agenda next month at the Fall Meeting in Baltimore.  We can expect that individual diocesan bishops will then develop ways and means of encouraging further conversations within their own dioceses over the coming year.  Keep in mind, as the Pope says above, that the current Relatio is merely a starting point, a kind of rough draft, for the work that lies ahead.

Then, next October, Act III will begin as the Pope opens an Ordinary Synod (not an Extraordinary one such as just ended) on the Family.  At that time, more discussions will be held by the Synod Fathers, many of whom will be different bishops than the ones who attended this one, and a final document will be prepared for the Holy Father.  It can then be anticipated that the Pope will take all of these results and draft his own Apostolic Exhortation in which he charts the course ahead.

I think there are several important things to keep in mind.

1) To speak of the current Relatio as anything other than a working document is a mistake.  It does not constitute in any way “official teaching.”  Rather, it simply recounts, as the Pope says, the various elements which were discussed during this first stage of the process.  So, for people to be upset over what the document currently says, or doesn’t say, is very inappropriate and unnecessary.  The various topics for FUTURE work are all there; what final forms may come in the year remain to be seen.

2) This is why the Pope directed that even those three paragraphs which did not gain a 2/3 majority vote would still be printed in the text.  He also directed that the voting results be included so that everyone (and not just bishops!) could see how the voting went.

francis at synod 23) I would strongly recommend that people spend more time on the Pope’s speech at this point, because it gives the clearest indication of how HE is seeing things.  Consider just two tantalizing tidbits.

  • When the mid-point version of the Relatio was released last week, much attention was given to the language of “welcome” that used with regard to homosexuals, as well as the gifts that they bring to the Church.  In fact, some in the blogosphere complained about that translation of “welcome”.  The Italian verb used was “accogliere”.  According to Italians I’ve asked, the best English translation for that verb is “to welcome.”  Still, the English translation was later changed to “provide for” — clearly not an accurate translation.  Now look at the Pope’s speech from Saturday.  He’s not talking specifically about homosexual persons, but more generally, and he uses “accogliere” again.  He reminds the bishops that there first duty is to “feed your sheep, feed your sheep.”  He then tells them that they are to:

Seek to welcome [“accogliere”] – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome [“accogliere”]: [rather] go out and find them! [“Ho sbagliato, qui. Ho detto accogliere: andare a trovarle.”]

I find it interesting that he takes the time here to use the very verb so many were fussing about earlier in the week: and then he plainly says that even as “welcoming” it doesn’t go far enough!  We’re not merely to welcome those who come to us who are lost: we are to go out and find them.

  • The Pope also reminds us that, as a Church, we are already to be open to all who seek.  In a particularly beautiful passage, he teaches:

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

So, however Act II and Act III develop over the next year, the vision of our Holy Father Francis is quite clear: the Church as “field hospital” for all in need is open to receive patients; in fact, we’re supposed to be out in the streets and the fields and the back alleys finding those in need.  Brother deacons, this message is particularly apt for us!  If the whole Church is a field hospital, we deacons should be the EMTs.

Stay tuned.  This is going to be quite a year ahead!  And, as the Pope requested, pray for him.  He has set us on a challenging course, but one that will, with God’s grace, bear much fruit.

Moon Over St. Peter's

Reflections from the Water’s Edge: The Canonizations in Perspective

I wrote the following reflection in Rome last Monday as the experience of the canonizations was still fresh.  I post it here as a way to conclude my blog series on the event.

three popes            I know what you’re probably thinking: “No, not another item on the canonizations!”  But I’m not writing now about the theological, political, or even sociological import of the recent canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II on 27 April.  Others have already analyzed the event, its pros and cons, and these conversations certainly need to continue!  However, what I want to do is much simpler.  When all is said and done, what was it like to be in that crowd, and ministering to the people in that crowd, especially those who were furthest away?

For a variety of reasons, I had found myself being asked to assist with the distribution of Communion during the Mass of Canonization.  I was excited to be asked, of course, but also a little nervous.  I’ve been asked before, and sometimes something unexpected would come up at the last minute to throw the whole thing off.  So I was cautiously excited about this opportunity!  Something else struck me from the very start.  This was going to be the largest Mass I’d ever attended and who knew exactly where we’d be assigned to distribute communion?  I decided that I wanted to take the Pope’s repeated direction to serve on the fringes of society, and what better way to do that than to request a position away from St. Peter’s Square?  My request was granted, and I was assigned to part of the group of priests and deacons who would assemble at the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina along the Via della Conciliazione, and we would be heading away from St. Peter’s and toward the Tiber to serve.

Via della ConciliazioneThe day began early, of course, and we were told to be in the parking lot of St. John Lateran in time to catch the first of eight buses leaving at 5:00 AM for the Vatican.  Just to be sure, I was there before 4:00 AM in case plans changed.  As we loaded the buses, I joined a group of Polish priests along with part of the Vatican Choir.  Interesting conversations along the route!  By the way, this is the only way to travel in Rome: escorted the entire route by carabinieri clearing the way; we made it to the Vatican in record time, I’m sure.

After getting off the bus, we were formed in our various groups and given additional credentials to participate in the Mass.  And then, by foot, we were escorted from the “Holy Office” area around the perimeter of Bernini’s famous colonnade, and into the Via della Conciliazione.  What a sight greeted us there!  Officials had positioned waist-high barricades across the entire street, and people were packed in behind those barricades the entire length and breadth of the street and all of its tributaries.  There was a small “aisle” down the middle being used for emergency support teams, and even at this early hour, they were assisting a number of people.  We were led down this aisle until we got to the front of the church.  There we had to wait while officials figured out a way to get us (about 200 of us, all told) from the middle of the street and into the the church.  Eventually, after a half hour of gesticulations and shouting and talking on walkie-talkies and cell phones, that was all worked out and in we went.

The next few hours, waiting for the papal Mass to begin in the Piazza San Pietro, was surreal, but blessed.  Here we were, just a few feet from that vast crowd of pilgrims, some of them singing softly, some increasingly distressed by the press of the crowd itself, and all wanting so much to be a part of things and to get as close as they could.  We were inside a quiet, darkened, beautiful church, and we joined in prayer for the people.  After morning prayer led by the pastor and the clergy of the parish, we celebrated Mass at 8:00 AM, during which the hosts we would be distributing later were consecrated.  Ciboria filled tables that flanked the sanctuary.

When our Mass was over, a screen was set up so we could follow the papal Mass.  This was not simply out of curiosity: our own movements would be timed to those of the Holy Father.  Immediately following the consecration we were invited to vest in our albs and stoles, and then we processed, two by two, into the sanctuary to take up a ciborium and then continued our procession, lining up facing the front doors of the church.  As the Lord’s Prayer began, the doors were opened and we processed into the street, turning to the left, away from St. Peter’s and in the direction of the Tiber.  Every ten meters or so, two of us would drop out of procession and take positions facing the assembly.  I was at the end of the line, so I got to go the farthest, finally taking up a position along a street aptly named after Pope, now Saint, John XXIII.  As the Pope finished his Communion, we immediately began our own distribution to the people.

eucharist01Words cannot describe the power of the moment.  I saw later that the priests distributing Communion near the papal altar had attendants with them carrying umbrellas over them; we had no such niceties.  Our attendants were carabinieri working crowd control, but now helping out with getting people positioned to receive Communion.  The assembly was orderly, but anxious to receive.  A few people held up fingers indicating how many hosts they wanted, almost like they were in a restaurant ordering something.  Needless to say, these requests were not accommodated, and we distributed Communion on the tongue to all who presented themselves.  And, for the most part, people were as reverent as if they were in their parish churches at home.  To see the eagerness, the joy, the “this will all be worthwhile if I can just receive communion” looks on their faces, when all along they thought they were “stuck” along the fringes with no way to participate in what was going on at the other end of the street.  Yet here they were, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ right where they were, in life and at that Mass.

As Communion was finishing in the Piazza, so too were we.  As far as I could tell, all who had wanted to receive Communion along the route were able to do so, and it was such a privilege to be a part of that.  We returned to the church, took off our vestments, and after the pope’s final blessing, we were escorted out a back door of the church and returned to the streets.

I know there are many issues surrounding these, or indeed, any canonizations.  As a theologian myself, I’ve participated in many of them!  We can and must debate those issues.  But for a few blessed moments yesterday, in the midst of all the apparent chaos, the primary matter was the blessing of serving, touching, and ministering to people from around world who had only one thing on the minds and in their hearts: to be a part of this larger communion we call church, at a very special time in her history.  It is a blessing I now want to carry to the people who were not able to be here, both inside and outside the Church herself.

The Canonization Chronicles: Thoughts on the Day

street view canonizationsThere is a reason why this post is about twelve hours later than I intended it to be.  It took that long for me to get out of the neighborhood of the canonizations!  All the roads in and out of the area were closed down, so no taxis were available, and the buses, though advertised as running, where nowhere in evidence during the hour and a half I waited!  But don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t have missed any of this for the world.

Let me tell you about the day itself as some of us experienced it.  I haven’t seen any of the TV coverage yet, but here’s what some of us saw and experienced.

2:45 AM: Got up to get ready for the trip to Saint John Lateran, where we are to meet the buses.

3:15: Taxi to St. John Lateran

3:45: At St. John Lateran, and I’m the only person here!  Did I misinterpret the instructions we’d been given?  Am I in the right place at the right time?  I decide to wait until 4:00 before getting too concerned.  I sit on the steps of the Basilica and wait.

Roma Cristiana bus4:00 AM: Cars start dropping people off and soon there are dozens of people milling about.  The first two buses arrive; there will be eight altogether. But here’s the funny bit: If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ve seen the “Roma Cristiana” double decker buses going everywhere.  Well, those are the buses that have been chartered for us this morning!  We all feel like we’re going on a tour!

4:15 AM: The Navy officer in me has to admit that the Romans have organized this well, with great precision and attention to detail.  There’s a monsignor here who could pass for Patton in his ability to get the right people on the right buses!  I’m on bus number two, along with a group of Polish priests and part of the Vatican choir.  Interesting groups!

5:00 AM: Right on the dot and right on schedule, we leave.  Best trip I’ve ever taken to get around Rome.  Carabinieri on motorcycles lead the way and act as traffic controllers as our eight buses make a quick trip over to the Vatican.  I’m on the upper deck, so the view is really cool.

0427pope5:30 AM: We arrive at the Vatican, next to what used to be known as the Holy Office (“Sant’Uffizio”).  How to describe the scene.  Bedlam?  Chaos?  As we were approaching, the crowds exploded in numbers.  There were groups already walking toward the Vatican, with their leaders holding up the guide flags as if they were strolling around at Wating for canonizationslunchtime!  All over, there were groups starting to wake up after camping on the streets on pads, cardboard and blankets.  People were crowding along the bridge approaches, and the underpass was packed.  When we arrived, we were rushed off the bus and told to wait in a group nearby for further instructions.

photo (1)5:45 AM: We were now given NEW credentials to participate; these were from the Vatican itself (the previous credentials were from the Vicariate).  We were then escorted “a piedi” (by foot) around St. Peter’s and the Via della Conciliazione.  And then I saw a remarkable sight: As we approached the Ancora Bookstore (on the right) and the Vatican Press Office (on the left), we saw security people at barricades.  Beyond them, stretching across the entire street and extending down all the way to the Tiber, was a sea of people.  I wish I’d had a camera to record the images.   Rather eearily, they were relatively quiet, standing there.  In the darkness, it was more than a little surreal!  Down the center was a narrow walkway kept open  by metal barricades, and we were escorted down this path.  It was also being used by the emergency services people to help people who had collapsed or were in need of assistance.  Some groups sang softly.  We quickly made our way to Santa Maria in Traspontina, but then there was a snag.  There was no way to get from the center of the street into the church!  After about a half hour of phone calls, working the walkie-talkies, lots of gestures and shouting, a pathway was negotiated and we got into the church before the throng filled up again.

S. Maria in Traspontina6:00 AM:  In the quiet, darkened church we found places to sit and get comfortable.  The photo to the left was obviously taken during daylight and without the crowds in front of it!  All of us priests and deacons had little bags with us carrying our albs and stoles, so we settled in quietly and prayed for the safety of those outside.   We were welcomed by the pastor of the church and invited to make ourselves comfortable.

7:30 AM: We began Morning Prayer together, led by the pastor and a (transitional) deacon; more about him later.

S. Maria in Traspontina38:00 AM: We began the celebration of Mass in the church.  Long tables were arranged behind the altar itself, and there were literally dozens of ciboria filled with hosts arranged there.  During our Mass, all of these were consecrated and would be the Hosts we would distribute later to the people outside gathered for the Mass of Canonization.  It was a beautifully simple Mass.  No musicians except for one of the deacons who served as cantor to get us going.  We sang a cappella and kept thinking and praying for the pilgrims outside.  It was like we were in a bubble of prayer.

479px-Almeida_Day_4Oh, and here’s the deacon who assisted: ever wonder what happened to the actor who played Tony Almeida on the series “24”?  He’s here in Rome, a deacon at this church!  Seriously, if this isn’t Carlos Bernard, they could be twin brothers.

9:00 AM: After Mass a large screen was set up so we could follow the Mass of Canonization, which was to start at 10:00.  More than just for our entertainment, we were told that we would be timing our own movements based on the Mass.

10:00 AM: The Mass begins as the Pope enters.  Here we go.  Our schedule is like this.  After the pope’s homily is completed, we are invited to vest.  We quickly put on our albs and stoles and form two lines leading into the sanctuary.  We each take a ciborium and the line forms heading to the front doors of the church.  As soon as the Lord’s Prayer begins at St. Peter’s, they open the doors of Santa Maria, and out we go, two by two.  We move to the central path I mentioned before, and turn immediately to the left, AWAY from St. Peter’s and toward the Tiber.  Every ten meters or so, one of us “drops out” of line and stands in front of the crowd.  I’m toward the end of the line, so I wind up where I’d hoped to be all along — down near the Tiber.  I notice something I hadn’t before: the cross street where I am standing, getting ready to distribute Communion, is named after St. John XXIII.  Those who know of my love for St. John will realize just how special this location was!  I’ve marked my location on the map at right.  You can see St. Peter’s on the left, and I was standing as indicated by the yellow arrow on the right.

overhead view of route


We all turned to watch the big screen TVs, and as soon as the Pope had finished his own Communion, we turned and began distributing communion ourselves.  How to describe the moment?  First we were up against barricades, surrounded and assisted by carabinieri, and people had to struggle to get to us as we reached as far as we could into the crowd.  We had been told to distribute Communion only on the tongue, and not into the hand.  The wisdom of this became quite apparent.  Some people were holding up their hands, and indicated how many hosts they wanted, like they were asking for seats in a restaurant!  But most were as reverent as if they were in church.  We offered Communion with the Latin words, “Corpus Christi”, since there were so many different cultures and languages present, it was the only way to communicate.  I didn’t stay just in one place; I tried to move to different positions so people could get forward more easily, and I noticed that all of us were doing that as well.  For all of the crowds, this was an amazingly intimate experience, sharing the Body and Blood of Christ with so many people who simply wanted to be part of this sacramental moment in time.

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I had no more hosts, and began making my way back to the Church; by the time communion was finished in St. Peter’s, we were finished as well.  As the Pope was reading the Prayer after Communion, all of us were back inside Santa Maria.  A crew from the Discovery Channel was present with us, and I was interviewed briefly after the Mass, and then — it was over!  The pope did a drive-by along the route, but even he had trouble navigating through the crowds!pope at canonizations2

The rest of the day, as I said at the beginning, was spent trying to navigate my way OUT of the area!  The rains held off during the ceremonies, thank God, but they began in the early afternoon, making walking around the area pretty cold, damp and miserable!  I even dozed for a while on the steps of the Vatican Press Office waiting for the rain to let up a bit.  Finally, about 8 PM, things were relatively normal, I found a taxi, and headed to the residence.

I can’t describe adequately how special this time has been.  Not only pertaining to the two new saints of ours, and all of the attention being paid about whether or not this should be done, or if one or the other of these two men should be declared a saint — whatever!  What has been the most amazing thing has been the people, from all over the world, here to celebrate their faith and their love.

So often, we think of “church” in terms of our own parishes.  True enough.  Sometimes, we think of “church” in terms of diocese or country — also, true enough.  We can get critical and say, “Why doesn’t the Church do _____?” (Fill in the blank with your own ideas here.)  But experiencing the Church like this, from Poles who can’t ever get enough of St. John Paul II, who restored their own national pride and sense of freedom and solidarity, to the people from Bergamo whose love for St. John XXIII was just as palpable, to the Americans, French, Chinese, Belgians, Sudanese, Sardinians, Romans, Spanish,  Germans, Netherlanders, Africans from every country on that continent, Koreans, Filipinos,  Australians, New Zealanders, and Brits, plus others I’ve forgotten: THIS is the face of the Catholic Church, and this is the kind of impact Pope Francis is having on the enthusiasm and the joy people brought with them to Rome.  Were there problems?  Oh, you bet!  Will people go home with bad experiences along with the good?  Undoubtedly.  But for the majority of people, those inconveniences and challenges were nothing compared to the overall joy of being here and being together.



The Canonization Chronicles: Rebuilding Rome (or at least a part of it!)

The pace of life in and around St. Peter’s is really so full of energy and enthusiasm right now, the best word I’ve seen to describe comes from NCR reporter Joshua McElwee — a carnival.  The constuction and preparation of the altar and platform and other structures in the Piazza is one thing.  I’ve lost count of the various national and regional flags, the languages being spoken, and even the number of times street vendors have approached with the finest souvenirs ever made!  Really!  They told me so!

Everything is new and fascinating in this Eternal City right now, at least the parts closest to the Vatican.  New structures have been built, especially the press scaffolds and so on.  Traffic has been completely re-routed around the Vatican, and most of the shops and cafes and restaurants will be closed all day tomorrow because of the press of the crowds.

photo 1It has been another wonderful day with friends and new acquaintances. I had a quick coffee with NCR reporter Joshua McElwee, and then, after meeting with brother deacons Rob Mascini (the Netherlands) and Enzo Petrolino (Italy), I wandered over to the Borgo Pio, one of my favorite streets in Rome, just around the corner from St. Peter’s.  Always a fascinating place people watching!

There was even some nice music for pranzo. . . .

After wandering around this morning and early afternoon, with the temperature rising fast, I stopped outside the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (bookstore) near the Vatican Press Office for a lemonade.  Soon a couple came up and asked me in halting Italian if they could sit down as well!  I answered “sure” in my best Midwestern English, and met a delightful couple from Chicago.  While they are thrilled with the canonizations in a general way, they’re really hoping to encounter Francis.  This seems a very three popescommon response.  People are happy for the two popes being canonized, but in the hearts of many, Francis is already a saint as well, and he’s still with us!  One of the most common images (of which I have many in my bag already) shows the two new saints flanking  Pope Francis who is in the middle and slightly elevated over Pope John and Pope John Paul II.

My new friends told me that this was their first ever trip to Rome, but that they were already looking forward to coming back when things would be less hectic.

Among all the various national groups, the one that stands out are the Poles.  As one person put it to me, “The Poles are back!”  There are signs and songs and shouts all over the place; I can only imagine what will happen tomorrow when Pope John Paul II is announced as “Saint John Paul.”  But Pope John is not forgotten.  I saw several groups of people John’s home diocese of Bergamo: from young and old,  clergy, religious and laity,  all of whom are literally camping in St. Peter’s Square.  Although the police are trying to tell people they can’t do that, no one has yet started removing them either.  It will be interesting to see what happens on that score as well.

I had a delightful conversation with CNS reporter Carol Glatz and then decided to grab a taxi and return to our lodgings and rest for tomorrow.  But, with every respect to my friends and colleagues, the highlight of the day was about to happen, completely by chance.



The Via della Conciliazione is now a pedestrian thoroughfare.  People are simply walking up and down the whole length of the street, and the only motorized vehicles allowed now are related to public safety.  Along the way, I encountered this delightful group of children being entertained by some local workers.  Enjoy the video.  It makes my day every time I watch it!

I have come back to the religious house where I’m staying where they young rector from the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries (CMM) and I took a light supper in the kitchen and talked about many things.  Born and raised in South Africa, Fr. Musa is excited about the new energy being found in and about the church.  He won’t be able to attend the canonizations tomorrow because he serves in several parishes on the weekend, but he asked for special prayers at the canonization and promised his in return.  The house has pilgrims from the United States (well, just me), the Netherlands,  and Germany.  There was a young woman from Michigan staying here, according to Musa, but she called him to say that she was going to camp out in St. Peter’s Square tonight.

As for me, I will be getting up at 2:45 AM.  Sister Philomena, the 84-year old dynamo who runs the kitchen, is putting out some breakfast things for me tonight, and Musa is getting up to arrange a taxi at 3:30 AM.  (The taxi company wouldn’t arrange things in advance!).  He said it was his way of participating in the event.  I’ll take the taxi to Saint John Lateran to pick up the bus which will take us to the edge of Vatican City.  There we will be met by officials from the Vatican’s Pilgrimage office at 5:00 AM and escorted to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina to await the Mass and our service as ministers of communion.

So, it’s off to bed for a few hours sleep.  Tomorrow will be an incredible day!  Oh, and the forecast calls for rain and storms, but only AFTER the conclusion of the Mass.  We shall see. . . .

The Canonization Chronicles: Notes from Friday, 25 April

It was a busy day today, and these scattered thoughts reflect some of the craziness that’s building around here.

Queue for St. Peter'sIt was still another gorgeous Roman day.  As I entered the Piazza San Pietro, it was obvious that the crowds are building in both numbers and intensity.  There were long lines yesterday to get into the Basilica, but nothing like today!  The queue wrapped around the piazza and into the Via della Conciliazione.  The crowds today were often celebrating in parish, organization, or even national groups.  One sizable group had brought in a large wooden cross, secured it in a stand, and serenaded passersby with a variety of songs and hymns for at least an hour.  Other groups were singing around the Square as well.  I would estimate — very unofficially — that the crowd in the Square today was at least triple what was there yesterday — and tonight, a deacon friend from Rome told me that they are now estimating as many as five million people to be “attending” the canonization ceremonies at venues all over town.  One group today was practicing their “John Paul II, we love you” chant, although I didn’t hear a similar chant for Pope John.  The press scaffolding next to the Vatican Communications Office seemed quite crowded today, much more so than yesterday.

double_popesPerhaps the most visible change of all today, however, was the hanging of the tapestries with the portraits of the two new saints from the front of the Basilica.  They’re not hanging together like this; that’s just a camera trick. St. John is on the right side of the Basilica and St. John Paul is on the left side of the Basilica.  The tapestries seem smaller than what I would have expected when you see them against the full size of the Basilica, but maybe that will change for Sunday!

John in LifeBefore going on, I’d like to add a bit about Pope John.  Personally, I am sorry that so many people have forgotten just how popular, inspiring and influential  Pope John was in his day.  When he died on Pentecost, 1963, a proposal to proclaim him a saint immediately, “Santo Subito”, was chanted by the people and circulated among the world’s bishops who were preparing to return to Rome for the second session of the Council.  It was proposed that the Council itself, when back in session, make the proclamation of sainthood (under the leadership of Pope John’s good friend and successor, Pope Paul VI).  Although Pope John was extraordinarily popular and beloved for his simplicity, humor and pastoral concern, the bishops decided that to proclaim him a saint immediately would be unseemly; there also seemed to be a sense that it would be better to wait until “Pope John’s Council” was successfully concluded as his legacy before proceeding further.  Obviously, these are two very different men, and this is not a popularity contest!  Still, I hope that younger people who have really only known St. John Paul II and his recent successors might be inspired by this canonization to study and learn about St. John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.  To understand where we are today on many levels in the Church, a person really needs to understand those two popes of the Council and the first years of its implementation.


As I wandered around the Square talking with people, and later in conversations with friends, there was a general enthusiasm about the leadership of Pope Francis, his genius at linking these two new pope-saints, and his own unique stamp on exercising the Petrine ministry.  The only concern raised was that he has made himself so open and vulnerable that he may be attacked!  The numbers at his Wednesday audiences are stunning, and he has begun the audiences much earlier, arriving in his popemobile sometimes as early as 9:30 AM so he has more time to meander through the crowds before taking his position on the platform for the formal portion of the audience.

St. John LateranFinally, a brief word about the instructions we’ve received for Sunday.  I must leave the monastery in which I’m staying at 3:30 AM for the trip to St. John Lateran.  I have included a picture of St. John Lateran in bright sunshine which I took yesterday; that’s not a view I’ll have at 5:00 AM on Sunday morning!

At some time between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, a special bus will take us priests and deacons who are distributing communion from the Lateran to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina at the other end of the Via della Conciliazione from St. Peter’s (a week ago, we were told the bus would leave at 5:30; that’s been changed.  Maybe by Sunday, it will change even further.  I intend to be there in plenty of time!).  At Santa Maria we will vest in alb and white stole and wait for the Mass of Canonization to begin at 10:00 AM, when we will make our way out the front doors of the church into the Via della Conciliazione.  Eventually, we will distribute Communion to those communicants in the area.  We have been told to distribute communion only on the tongue (actually, the instructions say “data in bocca” (given into the mouth), in order to prevent someone from taking the Host in the crowd and giving it to another.

I’m going to St. Peter’s tomorrow morning; it will be interesting to see what happens next as the numbers build along with the excitement!

Santa Maria in Traspontina

Santa Maria in Traspontina on the Via della Conciliazione

The Canonization Chronicles: One Pilgrim’s Tale


First a word on the tourist stuff. We landed in Rome right on time. It was 7:30 Rome time, not even close to my own body clock. But I had slept well on the flight, so I’ve been going strong ever since; as I write this it’s now 3:00 PM in Rome. I’m sitting at the base of one of Bernini’s great columns waiting for a deacon-friend to arrive from the Netherlands.

Sitting near me, the next column over, is a group of young Polish students. For the last hour they have been sitting quietly writing in their journals about their experiences. Wouldn’t you love to read what they’re writing?

The Roman traffic today didn’t seem too different from the norm, except that the times posted at the bus stops have long since gone from pleasant, civilized suggestions to complete fictions! And then we turned onto the Via della Conciliazione! Unbelievable! Where taxis used to queue is now blocked off, largely by press vans. The taxis are now ranked up and down the street. There are huge lines getting into the shops and cafés.

My one task for the day was to pick up the credentials needed to assist with Communion during the Canonization Mass on Sunday. That involved getting to the Vicariate of Rome, finding the right office, presenting the necessary documentation — all before the deadline, which was noon! I’m happy to report that the mission was accomplished, and I have those invaluable papers and the instructions that go along with them. More details to come.

There’s great excitement in the air. Reporters are everywhere, getting interviews. In fact, my young Polish friends were just led off to give an interview themselves. Images of John XXIII, John Paul II, and Pope Francis are everywhere.

And the day is still young!