Thursday, April 4, 2019

Lenten Pilgrimage to Rome- Audience with the Holy Father - April 3rd and 4th, 2019

            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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Lenten Pilgrimage to Rome - April 1 and 2, 2019

The beginning of April and these last four days in Rome began, fittingly enough, by visiting two of the four major basilicas in Rome. After a 20-minute car ride, we arrived at St. Mary Major Basilica which, I have to admit, for several reasons, is probably my favorite of all the basilicas. Besides the fact that it is dedicated to our Blessed Mother, St. Mary Major feels more like “my spiritual home”. It is beautiful and simple at the same time; it contains part of the Manger where Jesus was laid following His Birth in Bethlehem, and it is normally the church where I find a good Confessor (in English) so I can celebrate the Sacrament of Penance while in Rome. At this visit, most of our small pilgrimage group availed ourselves of this beautiful Sacrament as another wonderful spiritual preparation as we draw ever closer to Holy Week and Easter. 

After our prayerful visit there, we then went by car to the Basilica of St. John Lateran where we would be celebrating Mass for this Monday of the 4th Week of Lent. St. John Lateran is the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Rome, and therefore it is where the Holy Father, as the Bishop of Rome, has his Cathedra and celebrates all the official Masses and other major liturgical events for the priests and people of the Diocese of Rome. But the Lateran is also the first Church in all Christendom, given and built by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century at the time when he issued the Edict of Toleration, giving Christians the right to practice their faith without persecution, a faith that Constantine himself embraced on his deathbed, thanks to the influence of his mother, St. Helen. It was also due to St. Helen’s influence that we have so many treasured religious articles which she found in the Holy Land and had brought back to Rome, including the True Cross, the Holy Stairs, and the table top where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His Apostles. It was a joyful privilege to celebrate Mass together in one of the amazing chapels in this magnificent Basilica, and we were all greatly inspired by Msgr. Osborn’s fine homily. Speaking of the Holy Stairs, we went directly to where they are, just across the street from the Lateran. These Holy Stairs are the exact ones where Pilate condemned Jesus to death, and the long-standing spiritual practice is that Pilgrims who are able to prayerfully mount these steps on their knees as we meditate on the beginning of Jesus’ Passion and Way of the Cross are able to receive a Plenary Indulgence. It was truly a very moving and memorable time for us all. 

At this point, our Pilgrimage group separated, with the members of my family going off on their own to see a number of the great sights in Rome, including the Coliseum, while Msgr. Osborn, Fr. Jeff, Fr. Max and I spent the remainder of the day together to give us a chance to talk more specifically about their License Degree, the major papers (Tesina di Licenza) they have both written (Fr. Jeff’s: “Canon 285, Juridical Categories for the Conduct of Clerics” and Fr. Max’s: “The Use Of Judicial Presumptions as a Form of Proof”), and our plans for their return to the Diocese later this Spring. As we made our way back to the Casa, we first visited the beautiful Church of Santa Croce of Jerusalem where many beautiful Relics of Jesus’ Passion and Death are. This was another great way to help prepare us for these final three weeks of Lent, including Holy Week that is quickly approaching. After our several hours of meetings together, and a meeting with the Superior of the Casa for his evaluations of our two student priests, we all joined together at the end of the day for a delicious light dinner to bring Monday to a fitting close. 

April 2, 2019
Today has been a day completely focused on the most important of all the Basilicas, St. Peter. We took an early bus to arrive at St. Peter’s so we could be ready to celebrate Mass together scheduled for 7:15 a.m. Seeing this world-famous Basilica for the first time ever, or seeing it for the first time again, is breath-taking, it’s that impressive and beautiful. Security around all the Basilicas in Rome, and in particular St. Peter’s Basilica, is noticeably much tighter than the last time I was here, and much more restrictive. Getting through Security took much longer this time, and no vehicles are permitted down the Conciliazione (the main thoroughfare) nor around the surrounding streets. It makes it much nicer for the pilgrims who can walk without worrying about getting injured and it certainly makes the atmosphere more prayerful. While the traffic is changed, the huge numbers of pilgrims are as large and diverse as ever. At our Mass this morning in the Crypt of St. Peter’s at the Chapel of the Saints of Europe, Fr. Jeff gave a very nice homily in which he included many historical facts along with his spiritual insights to help us all to have a deeper appreciation for the significance of this major basilica. 

After Mass, Msgr. Osborn then led a wonderful and instructive tour of the upper Basilica, after which a number of our company had the courage to go up to the very top of the Basilica to what’s called the Cupola where the view is spectacular. I have to take their word for it since I was not among the courageous ones who went, but I do have a photo to show how beautiful it is. The remainder of the day consisted of some souvenirs shopping, other sightseeing, and, following praying Evening Prayer together, a nice dinner at a German/Italian restaurant, before retiring for the evening, with our hearts anticipating the “main event” for tomorrow—-the weekly General Audience with our Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, the 266th Successor to Peter. I look forward to sharing more about the Audience and more in the next Installment.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
+ Bishop Paul J. Bradley.