Another beautiful day dawned here in Rome with the excitement of knowing that I would be able to see the Holy Father at the General Audience later this morning. Because the Vatican is still on the winter schedule (and in fact all of Rome is still in the non-tourist mode, with less traffic and crowds), these Wednesday audiences are held indoors in the beautiful Blessed Pope Paul VI Hall. The only other time I attended a Papal Audience in that hall was the very first time I came to Rome in 1979 with a group of Pittsburgh Priests on Pilgrimage not long after Pope John Paul II was elected; he was the first Pope I got to shake hands with. What a joy to know he is now a Saint!
The Paul VI Hall holds about 4,000 pilgrims and it was filled beyond capacity. On the way there, Msgr. O and I stopped for a morning cappuccino and bomba---what a great way to start the day! We were both quite surprised when a couple waiting in line paid for our breakfast: how very kind! These Audiences are such amazing reality checks about the universality of our Catholic Church. There were people there from all over the world, and the Papal messages were delivered in at least eight different languages. Of the 10 or so Bishops who were sitting with me within yards of the Holy Father, one was from Spain, another from Austria, France, Ireland, Nigeria and Chile. Truly amazing.
The Holy Father entered the Hall on foot with his security retinue, but he slowly walked down the long center aisle, touching and being touched (and in some cases, grabbed) by hundreds of hands attached to incredibly joy filled people at seeing "Il Papa"! Once he arrived to the stage, there was a brief Liturgy of the Word service with the Reading proclaimed in eight different languages. The Holy Father then gave his catechesis/instruction in Italian based on the Reading, and then there were eight summaries of what he said in those same languages.
Pope Francis' message, based on the Reading, was even though we were taught by our parents from our earliest days of childhood not to "boast" or be filled with pride, St. Paul tells us to boast, but only about two things: about God's amazing love for us; and about our afflictions and sufferings which truly join us to Christ in a deeply spiritual way. He concluded by picking up on Paul's counsel to never give up on hope. And like a good teacher and father, he asked this huge crowd to pay special attention to his final words and to repeat after him in Italian: "La speranza non delude", that is hope does not disappoint! Those are words worth remembering and repeating over and over in our daily prayer.
At the end of General Audience, each Bishop present was privileged to greet the Holy Father in person. I had prepared my very brief remarks to be bi-lingual and to give this message: "Holy Father, I bring you greetings of love and fidelity from the Clergy and all the Faithful of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, and those many others who have great respect and admiration for your teaching authority. (Then, in Spanish): Estoy aprendiendo espanol, Le comparato especialmente, el saludo afectuoso de los jovenes, con quienes celebre la Santa misa el sabado pasado en un retiro eucharistico, The Presence. (Which says: In my novice-like Spanish, I especially bring you greetings of great affection from the young people of our Diocese with whom I just celebrated Mass this weekend at a Eucharistic Retreat ("The Presence"). (Then back to English) May God continue to bless your Apostolic Ministry. Muchas gracias!" That is what I had prepared to say, but I can't be sure what I actually said; that brief moment, standing face-to-face and hand-in hand with the Vicar of Christ on Earth is pretty overwhelming no matter how many times I have had that great privilege.[Click here to view the entire General Audience video.]
And then, it was over----while the Holy Father continued to greet many others, including hundreds of sick and suffering people there in wheelchairs and walkers, we were ushered out a side door, and it was back to the beautiful day outside. But that wonderful time in the Paul VI Hall will be a beautiful memory for me for a long time to come.
Msgr. Osborn and I then walked back up the big hill to the North American College (NAC) where we had some time for taking care of a number of other things. At 2 p.m. we both met three of the Sisters who are Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist for lunch. Msgr. Osborn worked with one of those Sisters, Sr. Rafaela, while he was in Rome at the Propagation of the Faith.The other Sisters were Sister Gabriella who works in the Vatican Library and Sister Judith, the Superior, who is the Director of Apostolic Ministries for the NAC. These are great Sisters. There is a Convent of these Sisters just north from our Diocese in Lowell, Michigan, with whom we have collaborated on several important issues, and it is my hope that we can do more with them in the future. Following the long and leisurely Pronzo (which for me was another bowl of pasta for the thrid day in a row, trying all different kinds and sauces---yum!), we parted ways and, after doing a little shopping, returned to the NAC. Given the full schedule of the day and the availability of chapel space, Msgr. Osborn and I celebrated Mass late in the day at 5:00 p.m. My intention for this Mass was a personal one for my cousin-in-law, Steve Horvath, who's Funeral Mass was being celebrated right about that same time back in Pittsburgh. Steve died very peacefully after a long battle with leukemia. May he Rest In Peace.
Our Deacon Jeff was busy all day preparing for and then taking an exam in one of his Canon Law classes.So by the time we met with him at 7:30 p.m., he was relieved, and already knew that he had not only passed but did very well. So, we concluded our day by traveling back down the big Hill to a very nice restaurant called La Vittoria, how fitting since Jeff had victoriously completed his exam. While that made for a late night and a very long day, it was a truly blessed day in every way. But, there's always tomorrow because (repeat after me....) "hope does not disappoint; La speranza non delude!"