Wednesdays in Rome always witness a huge influx of pilgrims who gather in large and small groups, having come from every country and continent on earth, just to be present for the General Audience with our Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. This Wednesday, April 3, 2019, was just such a day as our small group of Pilgrims set out to take the early bus across the city of Rome to be at the Vatican in time to secure the best vantage point for the Audience which began at 9:30 a.m. Through the kindness of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma (Michigan) who staff the U.S..Bishops Visitors Office, we were able to secure excellent seats for our small group, while I had the great privilege of having a seat right on the dais where our Holy Father gives his weekly Audience address. Perhaps due to the time of year, the chilly temps and the threat of rain, the crowds were noticeably smaller, and I was one of only five Bishops to have one of those official seats near the Holy Father.
At approximately 9:15 a.m., the Holy Father entered St. Peter’s Square in his famous “Popemobile” and was driven through the large crowds of pilgrims, stopping frequently to greet persons with special needs and to bless and kiss little “bambinos”. Finally at 9:30 a.m., the Holy Father got out of the Popemobile and walked up the walkway to his chair to begin the Audience with prayer.
The prayer consisted of a brief Reading from the Gospel repeated at least eight different times in the major languages of the world, followed by the Holy Father’s catechesis for the day, which for our Audience, was about his recent pastoral trip to Morocco, and a beautiful reflection on the importance of religious freedom and how we are all called to be “servants of hope”. The Audience concluded by praying the “Pater Noster” (Our Father) together and with the Holy Father’s blessing for those of us who were there, and for our families, which includes our entire Family of Faith of our Diocese of Kalamazoo.
As the Audience concluded, it was time for the Bishops who were present to personally greet the Holy Father. It was a great privilege for me to be the first of the Bishops to have this great honor. After greeting him and reminding him of our Diocese (and the Holy Father loves to repeat “Ka-la-ma-zoooo” after me with a big smile on his face), I told him I brought him greetings from all the priests, deacons and faithful people of our Diocese and that we are grateful to him and asking God’s graces to help him to remain courageous in his leadership of the Church in these difficult times. I concluded in Spanish: “Que Dios los bendiga y Nuestra Senora lo guie y proteja”. It was a wonderful and exhilarating spiritual experience, and I pray that you all feel the graces and blessings one time removed.
After a quick lunch, we spent the afternoon visiting the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. Though a completely different kind of experience, it was so very moving to have the opportunity to visit the burial places of the early Christians who lived in Rome in the 3rd century. This particular Catacomb had evidence of over 40,000 burials that covered an area of approximately 7 miles. The tour guide was a wonderful, well-informed and articulate young woman who explained in great detail the history of the Catacombs and the strong sense already in the 3rd century of the concept of the resurrection of the dead. As opposed to the strong majority of the pagan people in Rome who mourned their dead, the Christian community understood that those who had died buried their bodies for a time of sleeping awaiting the resurrection of the dead at the end of all time. The actual term “cemetery” comes from the Greek word for “sleeping”. It was a truly moving experience. “Eternal rest grant unto all your Faithful Departed, oh Lord, and let Your perpetual Light shine upon them. May they Rest In Peace. Amen.”
The day came to an end with a delicious dinner at Msgr. Osborn’s favorite restaurant, Trattoria Scavolina Roma. For all intents and purposes, that was our last meal together, which was a fitting way to bring our Lenten Pilgrimage to a conclusion.
Today (Thursday) was a special “side-trip” of a one-day tour of the beautiful Amalfi Coast along the Mediterranean Sea. Fr. Max and I, along with members of my family, enjoyed this trip immensely. Though the weather was unpleasant (it had turned cold and rained most of the day—-our first unpleasant day weather-wise), it was a wonderful experience enjoying the august beauty of God’s creation in this part of the world. A highpoint of this day trip was a visit to the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Amalfi, which houses the mortal remains of the great St. Andrew, Apostle. What a special grace and blessing.
Early tomorrow morning, we will all be boarding separate planes to find our ways back home, bringing to an end this wonderful Lenten Pilgrimage. I return to our Diocese very proud of our two young priests who have done exceptionally well in their studies as they prepare to return to our Diocese by the end of June; and I also return spiritually enriched for these final days of Lent and prepared for the approaching days of Holy Week and the Sacred Paschal Triduum.
With prayers for the continued intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church for our Diocese, and in thanksgiving for all the graces God continues to bestow upon us, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
+ Bishop Paul J. Bradley
Bishop of Kalamazoo