Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

26 April 2014

Meeting The Pope; Meeting A Saint

One place that American Catholics ought to visit is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. One place that every Catholic ought to visit is Rome. I've gotten to visit the former at least a dozen times, the latter, twice.

I am thankful for the many benefactors who had remembered me upon my diaconate ordination, without whose support I wouldn't have gone.

It all started as a relatively small contingent: just a dozen or so of us. Once word got out, the group just about tripled. Not many of us had been there before or knew what to expect. Well, we knew about St. Peter's. And lots, L  O   T    S of other churches. And the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the for an itinerary, however, there was nothing of the sort, as least as far as we knew. Sometimes that's the best way to go.

Not many people boarded the only plane flying to Rome that day from Philadelphia. It seemed as if we had most of it to ourselves. While we had room to stretch our legs, I wasn't very much relaxed--not for fear of flying, but rather because of excitement!

We stayed at the North American College (NAC), the residence for seminarians from American dioceses who study in one of the Pontifical Universities. Study in Rome, perhaps after ordination, was an aspiration of mine since seminary days. People used to tell me that they could see me doing that ("Aw, I bet you say that to all the seminarians!"). But with the passage of time, a clearer realization of internal and external limitations, and acceptance of God's will in the present moment, I am increasingly content with where I'm at. In fact, the will of God positively "matches" people up with precisely who and what they need. It turns out to be splendid.

We toured churches.  Every day. It got a bit tiring, such that I took an afternoon off to nap. I might have had a lot of pasta that day, too. (I might have had a lot of pasta almost every day.) Even with my nap day, there simply wasn't enough time to cover everything.

Our guide for the fortnight was Fr. Frederick Miller, a former professor of Systematic Theology at St. Charles, more recently a professor at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. At that point Father Miller was a spiritual director for the NAC. His familiarity with Romanit√° enabled us to tour the Scavi, the excavations beneath St. Peter's Basilica.

He was also able to speak to now-Cardinal Dziwisz, Pope John Paul's personal secretary, who quickly and unexpectedly got us into a baciamano audience. I can best describe it as a "conveyor-belt" meeting with His Holiness, our group being one among many who were blessed to be there that day. We were instructed to be at a certain place at a certain time, which became a "Hurry Up and Wait" session. Looking back, it could have been an hour and it could have been a week...we were going to meet Pope John Paul II!

That was no cardboard cut-out of Father Miller!
It became clear as we entered the room where he was seated, this was in some respects a shadow of the vigorous man who first ascended the Chair of Peter when I was barely two years old. In August of 1993, the threshold of my senior year of high school, I traveled with other pilgrims from the Diocese of Allentown to World Youth Day in Denver. Although he had suffered numerous health problems, not to mention an assassination attempt, John Paul stood tall! For such an active man, the prospect of scaling the Rockies would be akin to a Roman pilgrim's determination to tour the Scavi or climb the Spanish Steps. In order to adhere to such a rigorous schedule when we met him nearly ten years later, this man had to be moving by dint of a Higher Power!

As people sometimes do in anticipation of meeting a famous leader or celebrity, I waited my turn, thinking about what I should say to the Holy Father. As if I should have had to say anything! What can I tell him? What if he says something to me? At this point, the Pope's debilitation was visible, but he did speak to some people, and blessed others. In reality we were all blessed, and he spoke to us all without having to say a word.

After our individual meetings, the group of us gathered behind the Holy Father to sing a Latin tribute song that we learned in the seminary:
Domine, salvum fac patrem nostrum, Ioannem Paulum, et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus Te.
Lord, preserve our father, John Paul, and graciously hear us on the day we call upon You.

Then, off we went, to enjoy the rest of our trip and never wash our hands again.

As John Paul II was such a "mover and shaker," he gave millions of people the opportunity to meet him. He formed and inspired thousands of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That encounter enabled us seminarians to thank him for nourishing the seeds of faith, hope, and charity in us, so that we in our turn could nourish others.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us to Christ, so that we can be people of His Word!

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