Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part One: “Siempre Adelante”!

24B5572900000578-0-image-a-78_1421328465237“Keep Moving Forward”: Siempre Adelante!

During the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America last Wednesday, Pope Francis ended his homily by quoting St. Junipero Serra’s motto, “Siempre Adelante!”  Indeed, as has become a cornerstone of his teaching, the pope’s entire homily was about not remaining bottled up inside ourselves or our churches or our ecclesial institutions, but about going out to meet people where they actually are and not, as he would echo in New York, where we would like them to be.  He spoke of the joy associated with living out this pilgrim spirit and, with power and poetry, he challenged:

Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!

A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!

A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

These last few days have been remarkable on so many different levels and the impact of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis of Rome will be felt, studied, pondered and — we pray to God! — experienced for years to come.  In keeping with his charge to keep moving forward, he himself has left Cuba, Washington, and now New York.  As I write these words he has just landed in Philadelphia on the last leg of his North American sojourn.  Each and every stop along the way has significance, both in itself as well as in relationship to his whole overarching vision of the church as the loving outstretched hands of God’s own mercy.  We, the Church, are servant-missionaries, going out to encounter others in their own sitz-im-leben, their own particularities of life, their own existential realities, and caring for each other there.  As Christ Himself told his followers: “Be not afraid,” and, “Put out into the deep.”

IMG_1780I was so blessed to be able to participate as one of the corps of deacons assigned as ministers of Holy Communion during the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America.  As a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington who is currently serving in the Diocese of Monterey (the home of our newest Saint), and as a former resident of the District and student at CUA, just arriving back in town was a thrill.  But experiencing the pope on such familiar territory was electrifying and beyond words.  It will take a long time for its full impact to sink in.  These are a few initial recollections.

The day began early.  Even though we’ve lived in Washington many times over the years, trying to gauge the impact the pope’s travels through the District would have on public transportation was nearly impossible.  The Catholic University campus was scheduled to open at 10:00 AM, with Mass beginning at 4:15 PM.  Concelebrating priests and assisting deacons were told to be checked in and at our staging areas by 2:00 PM.  My traveling companions and I decided to forego the Metro and splurge on a taxi, leaving at 7:00 AM.  Traffic was light and we made great time.  Michigan Avenue was closed at Trinity Washington University, so we got out and walked toward Catholic University.  We hit the first security checkpoint at 7:30 and there we waited until they opened at 10:20.  The mood was good, however, and people were just excited about being in place instead of stuck in traffic across town!  There were pilgrims gathering from all points of the country.  People of all ages, colors, languages and backgrounds were lining up.  IMG_1748There were also sisters, some very young and others in their wisdom years, as well as priests and deacons (perhaps most noticeable by our ubiquitous little bags carrying albs and stoles for the Mass!).  The weather was wonderful, although by mid-morning, the temperature and sun began to bake a bit.  Some sisters found temporary relief under some nearby trees!

As a former career Navy officer, I was also struck by the sheer volume and diversity of the security forces assembled around the checkpoint: TSA, Homeland Security, the Secret Service, DC police, FBI, and others who left their uniforms and windbreakers at home to operate more subtly.

At 10:20 we began going through the checkpoint and, with the exception of being able to leave our shoes on, the procedure was exactly like going through security at the airport; in fact, that’s probably because the officials handling it were all TSA!  Belts off, jackets off, bags checked, and on and on.  However, everyone, including the TSA personnel, were in great spirits and full of excitement (unlike most lines at the airport!).

IMG_1272Once through we made our way to our assigned entrance point.  Priests and deacons had to check in with our own coordinators to receive additional instructions about where to vest and so on.  Then there was time to wonder around the familiar campus and check out the venue.  The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the best known feature of the campus and, of course, the papal Mass was going to be celebrated right outside in order to accommodate as many people as possible.  Even though the Basilica is the eighth largest church in the world, it was no where close to being adequate for the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 pilgrims who were gathering.

There were volunteers everywhere, most of them very excited and happy students, who directed folks to tents for water, cookies, and nutrition bars, and the Basilica Gift Shop had set up a couple of huge tents in front of Mullen Library.  I made my way to our assembly point for deacons and checked in.  It was a wonderful reunion, since many of the deacons gathering were brother deacons from the Archdiocese of Washington, along with a small contingent of deacons from the Diocese of Monterey and, of course, from other dioceses around the country.  I showed the Monterey group around a bit, and we had lunch together sitting on a curb along with some undergraduates taking a break from their own escort duties.

IMG_1293As we reassembled in our staging area, we found out how this was going to work.  We deacons would remain in the building during the first part of the Mass.  We could follow the Mass through the windows or on a TV located in the building.  We were introduced to our teams as well.  Each of us had an assigned “escort” who was, in most cases, an undergraduate student from CUA.  The escort would have an umbrella to hold over us during communion, not so much for us, but to show people where the communion ministers were actually located!  In addition to the escorts, we had team captains for each section who helped get us where we needed to be and help with crowd control.  It was all very well organized.  Long before the Mass began, every one of those chairs was filled with students and deacons.  And that was just one of the rooms being used.

And then, the Pope arrived.

IMG_1310Look, I’m a teacher, and I love being around students.  Here we were, assembled in a hot, humid classroom.  But the students (as well as most of us deacons) all had their cell phones out, tracking the pope’s location. Their own excitement and love for the man was palpable — and noisy!  “He’s just left the nunciature!”  “They’re approaching the USCCB!”  “They just left the USCCB — can you see him yet?”  “There he is!  There he is!”  “Francis!  Francis!”  They were standing on chairs, they helped each other find space at the windows, and I have never seen such joy, as they saw Francis make his way in the popemobile along the same paths that they walked every day to classes.  I have to admit, I was pretty much an undergraduate at that moment myself — it was surreal to see this man, this Pope, on such familiar territory.

The Mass itself was glorious.  Several things stood out, for me at least.  The canonization of Junipero Serra, the subject of concerns raised by some Native American groups, was handled beautifully.  In fact, not only did Native Americans participate in the canonization itself, the first reading of the Mass, from Isaiah, was proclaimed in Chochenyo, a native language previously declared to be a “dead” language, which has now been restored. IMG_1772 In fact, the man who proclaimed that reading was himself one of those responsible for restoring the language and here it was being heard again publicly for the first time by millions of people watching around the world!  After the Mass, the Pope met with nine Native American tribal leaders from California, including descendants of the Peoples with whom St. Junipero had served.  One of those leaders was Andy Galvan, who had helped present the relics of the saint during the Mass.  A fascinating and passionate man, he eagerly recounted his meeting with the pope as well as his pride in his cousin, who had proclaimed that first reading during the Mass.

Another part of the Mass which I will always remember took place during the pope’s wonderful homily.  A number of hosts had been consecrated at an earlier Mass to facilitate the distribution of communion during this Mass.  During the homily, Masters of Ceremonies brought a ciborium to each deacon so that we would be ready to form our procession and get to our communion stations.  Picture this: we were seated listening to the Holy Father speak of “going out” and of bringing Christ to all peoples where they actually are, and calling us all to a joyful mission, and all the while we were holding the Eucharistic Christ in our own hands, ready to do just that in a very real way.  For me, and I believe for all of us deacons assembled that day, this was a profound moment.

communionPerhaps another point to ponder for deacons.  It was interesting that it was the Order of Deacons who distributed Communion that day.  We were not able to sit outside with the bishops and priests in front of the Holy Father, but were instead staged inside with our student-escorts and team captains.  But then the Order of Deacons emerged from that building and processed to all points of the assembly to serve, as we should, the People of God.  It was the deacons who were called to serve in a particular way at that Mass.  As the ordained servants of the People of God, we were focused on carrying out that service.

As always, distributing Holy Communion is a joy: we experience the Christ who is really present under the sacramental forms of bread and wine, and we also experience the Christ who is really present in the people coming forward.  Some people dropped to their knees to receive, other stood and received on the tongue and others on their outstretched hands: all were reverent, joy-filled, and happy.

IMG_1309As people left the campus after the Mass, some of us stayed behind to speak with the media and to enjoy the afterglow before finding our way back to wherever we were staying.  It had been a long day, but a glorious one.  And all who were there left, I believe, with a renewed sense of mission.

A mission to “keep moving forward”: Siempre adelante!

In the next blog, we’ll reflect on the Pope at the Congress of the United States.

When Passion Goes Too Far: Crossing the Line

voris on dolanIt is nothing new for many people to be passionate about the Catholic Church, whether that passion is directed against the Church or for the Church.  However, passion should be balanced with compassion. As a theologian whose special interest is ecclesiology — the theology of church — I try to be aware of what’s going on in and around the church.  I try to avoid extreme positions on either side of the spectrum, firmly believing the ancient maxim “in medio stat virtus“, “virtue stands in the middle.”  Presuming the truth of that claim, then, we might conclude that “at the extremes stand weakness,” and perhaps even sin.  As one approaches the extremes, then, it becomes important to know where the boundaries are, the lines that one must not cross if it is truly truth and virtue that is sought.  For this reason I think it is important for us to consider the recent activities of a supposedly Catholic commentator by the name of Michael Voris.  I would not normally pay much attention to his work since in the several times I’ve reviewed it, I have found it consistently unbalanced and “over the top.”  But I was recently directed to a couple of his most recent broadcasts which seem even more so, and in my opinion, can give us a good example of how passion brought to the extreme crosses the line.  So, while I am loath to draw attention to his work on the one hand, I think that we also have a responsibility to challenge such extremism so we can all avoid it in the future.  Simply hoping that this kind of thing will just disappear if we ignore it is simplistic, dangerous and naive.

Mr. Voris has recently targeted for particular attention the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.  (For full disclosure: I have known Cardinal Dolan for many years, first meeting him briefly when we were both in the seminary, and again more closely during the years I served on the senior staff of the USCCB.)  While there may be more videos like these out there, these two will give a sense of what is going on.  Watch them here and here.  

One of my first reactions when I watched them for the first time was what I would do if someone said such things about me in such a public forum!  Certainly I would be consulting an attorney about whether such videos might constitute slander or libel.  But the legality of these videos, at least under US law, is a matter far beyond my qualifications or competence.  I can only examine them as a theologian, so let’s begin by highlighting just a few of the claims Mr. Voris makes in the videos above.

Cardinal-DolanCardinal Dolan is accused of being “a wicked bishop”, of being “under the grip of the devil.”  He is accused of not caring for or loving the Church, and that he apparently no longer believes in Hell.  He is accused of “giving your blessing to a group publicly celebrating their sin,” and that “you give your approval to mortal sin. . . You give active homosexuality a free pass in your Archdiocese.”  Then Mr. Voris expands his list of complaints, accusing Cardinal Dolan of not supporting “faithful Catholics.”  He has, according to Voris, never publicly condemned Islam as “a heresy and a false religion that does not have supernatural faith.”  The Cardinal, he claims “has been a non-stop source of scandal” and is “not fit to be a bishop.”  Voris wants the Cardinal and any other bishops who agree with him (the Cardinal) to repent their sins and resign their office.

Where to begin?  While reasonable people might certainly disagree with the actions of any bishop, just as one might with any leader, one must certainly stop there, without going on to try to infer motivation or motive.  I am sure that if Cardinal Dolan were asked about these things, he would completely and fully reject all of these assertions, and with good reason. To lump together, as Mr. Voris does, sexual orientation and sexual activity is to miss an important distinction made in the teaching of the church.  Nowhere has Cardinal Dolan ever sanctioned sinful behavior by anyone, nor does the record indicate that he has ever given anyone a “free pass” on sin of any kind.  There is no substantiation of any kind for a claim that the Cardinal has lost his faith, or that he is not striving to provide for the cura animarum of the people of New York — all the people.  To spring from a criticism of certain decisions into a full blown attempt to characterize another person’s intentions and motivations — much less that state of that person’s soul — is not only fatally flawed logic, it is seriously deficient in Catholic morality.

But perhaps most disturbing is the challenge offered by Mr. Voris toward the end of the first video: “Do not think that the punishment visited on you will not be the most severe when you die, perhaps even before you die, if you do not change.”  He then cries, “Now is the time for an authentic Catholic uprising.”  For me, these statements are most disturbing and downright frightening. I suppose coming from a person whose website is called “Church Militant,” this should not be surprising.  Still, couched in such militaristic tones and context, one could easily infer a call to physical violence against the Cardinal and other bishops.

The last point I wish to highlight is the claim made in the crawler at the bottom of the video.  It is an advertisement for a paid subscription to the site, which professes to be “100% faithful to the Magisterium.”  I must confess that when I first saw that claim, while watching the video and its assertions about Cardinal Dolan and other “wicked bishops,” I laughed out loud.  How a person could claim to be completely faithful to the teaching authority of the Church while at the same time denigrating those men whose ministry includes being authoritative teachers of that Magisterium is simply nonsensical.

What are we to make of all of this?  Let’s review some basics.

PentecostThe Magisterium is not simply a “who”; it is a “what.”  Magisterium refers to the teaching authority of the Church, a Church we believe guided by the Holy Spirit.  Every person, in some way or another, and in the broadest sense of the term, participates in this teaching authority, constantly learning and sharing this faith.  Think of parents, for example, teaching and forming their children in faith, as they are charged at baptism; they are part of the magisterium in this broad sense.  But in a very specific and particular way, the highest human teachers in the Church are the College of Bishops, always in communion with each other and with the head of the College, the Pope.  Unless and until an authoritative judgment is made by the College (always in communion with the Pope), or by the Pope himself, that a bishop is no longer part of that College, then the bishop in question remains an authoritative teacher.  It is not within the competence of someone else (like Mr. Voris, or myself) to judge when a bishop is no longer teaching authentic or faithful doctrine.  In fact, I will go further and suggest that, if there should be a presumption of veracity and accuracy in presenting the Church’s teaching, that presumption goes to the bishops, not to anyone else.  Put simply, Mr. Voris is neither qualified nor competent to make the judgments he is attempting to make.

Do bishops disagree with one another?  Of course they do, but not about the fundamentals of the faith.  They may disagree over pastoral strategies, over how a particular situation will be dealt with in their diocese, and they will be certainly be judged on the exercise of their ministry when they stand before God.  But disagreement in practice does not necessarily mean a break in communion.

God as JudgeAm I saying that bishops never make mistakes?  Of course not!  Bishops make mistakes just like the rest of us, and they also deserve the benefit of fraternal correction.  Some bishops commit crimes and should be held accountable under civil, criminal and canon law.  But no one has appointed any of us to take the place of God in judging us all for our sins.  Alone we will stand before God and take responsibility for the way we’ve lived our lives.

Let’s take just one example from the litany of complaints made by Mr. Voris, and analyze just how wrong he is.  He condemns Cardinal Dolan for not publicly condemning Islam as “a heresy and a false religion”.  While this may be what he believes, it is NOT what the Catholic Church teaches (remember the claim that he is 100% faithful to the Magisterium?).  What DOES the Magisterium of the Church teach about Islam?

IslamHere’s some truly authentic magisterial teaching, found in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution [please note that well — it is a DOGMATIC text, dealing with the most fundamental issues of faith and church] on the Church (Lumen gentium), #16:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator.  In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

Later, this thought is developed in the same Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), #3:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and
subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has
spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as
Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though
they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His
virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of
judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead.
Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual
understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Vatican IIIn fact, even earlier — when talking about religion in general, the bishops of the Council (that “episcopal college” mentioned above) taught at #2:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

When a person claims to speak with complete faithfulness to the Magisterium, then, we should expect that this person would be echoing these teachings, which Cardinal Dolan has certainly done.  The Church does NOT teach what Mr. Voris teaches: that Islam is “a heresy and a false religion.”

Finally, I want to return to the threatening language used by Mr. Voris when he refers to punishment that he thinks may happen to Cardinal Dolan after he dies, “or even before you die,” and when he issues his call for an “authentic Catholic uprising.  I would refer Mr. Voris and anyone else who is interested to the following canons from the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1372 A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council [note: such as Vatican II]  or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.

Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary [note: such as Cardinal Dolan] because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of a canon lawyer with regard to these canons as they might apply in this instance.

Many lines have been crossed in these ranting diatribes by Mr. Voris against Cardinal Dolan and any other bishops Mr. Voris decides to condemn.  Lines of civility, lines of Christian charity, and lines of faithful adherence to what the Church actually teaches have all been overstepped..  One would hope that Mr. Voris will himself be open to fraternal correction.  We just heard about this in the Gospel last Sunday.  As Christ taught his disciples 2,000 years ago, as well as his disciples today:

 If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

voris on dolan 2Mr. Voris is entitled and free to make his own judgments about things.  However, he is not free to play fast and loose with the truths of our faith or to challenge and mock the legitimate and authoritative exercise of servant-leadership by a bishop in communion with the Church, regardless of his own personal disagreement with those teachings or that bishop.  Yes, Cardinal Dolan will someday give an accounting of his stewardship; so, too, will Mr. Voris and the rest of us.

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: 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

Sunday Reflection: Serving in Back

This is a simple personalOrdination, March 25, 1990 reflection.  No big agenda, no big point to make.

I love being a deacon for many reasons.  But one of the things that is always a blessing is something I’ve been doing most of my adult life, even before being ordained a deacon: distributing Communion at Mass.  It is one of the most profound and moving experiences of ministry.

eucharistic ministerAt my current parish we have been encountering growing numbers of parishioners over the last couple of years, so much so that we’ve had to adapt our normal arrangements for communion to meet this need.  At our most highly attended Masses, after I distribute the Precious Blood to other communion ministers, I take a ciborium and head to our “cry room”.  Then I walk to the back of the Church and up the stairs to the choir loft, which is actually used for overflow seating (the choir is down near the altar), and then I go back downstairs and take a position at the back of the Church and begin distributing communion back there.

What I have come to love about doing this is that it feels very “diaconal” to be taking Christ to people who are “in the back” for a variety of reasons.  Some are there because the want a head start getting to the parking lot after Mass; but they are there.  Others are back there because they have little children and they want to be able to do what might be needed if the kids get fussy during Mass; but they are there.  Still others are there because they were running late or because they don’t like to move toward the front for some reason; but they are there.

Normally we take a position somewhere near the sanctuary and remain statically in place while people come to us for Communion.  What I find wonderful is the idea of a minister going out to where the people are.  It communicates so well that, not only during Mass but at all times, we are to carry Christ to wherever he is most needed, and not simply wait for people to come forward.

Gotta love it!

communion