The Holy Father invited the priests of the world to come to Rome on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to solemnly bring to a close the Year for Priests. I felt that this would be an excellent experience for any of our priests who would like to take part in this very special event. My experience of such events is that one experiences the vastness of the Universal Church and also one is encouraged by the realization that we are not alone in our faith nor in facing its challenges in our contemporary world. So I accompanied seven priests from the Archdiocese of Regina on this pilgrimage and Bishop Don accompanied five of the clergy from the Diocese of Saskatoon. Some of us looked pretty cheery as we arrived at the Airport in Rome after a long flight from Regina via Toronto.
Before the sessions for the Year for Priests began, thanks to Bishop Don's arrangements, we had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together in two very special locations. The first was in the Grotto of St. Peter's at the Tomb of St. Peter, which is just behind us here in this picture.
The second place was at the Altar of Blessed John XXIII in the floor of St. Peter's Basilica. The remains of Blessed John were moved here after his Beatification in the year 2000 to give the faithful access to his tomb in order that they may more easily spend time in prayer. Pope John brought the gift of the Second Vatican Council to the Church
Bishop Don presided over the Mass. Our Deacon and myself were in the small space at the altar and the other priests were concelebrating from just in front of the railing.
In addition to the sessions at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where the body of St. Paul is buried not far from the place of his martyrdom, there were two times of prayer with the Holy Father. The first was on Thursday evening, a vigil of prayer and reflection held in St. Peter's Square.
The Holy Father was energetic and, I am sure, delighted with the number of priests who came from around the world to join with him in prayer and celebration. There were over 11,000 priests in attendance, much more than the organizers had expected. I thought that this was a wonderful witness to the unity of the priesthood and the support that the Holy Father has from his priests around the globe.
The picture of St. Jean Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, patron saint of Parish Priests was prominent on the facade of St. Peter's that evening. It was on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death that Pope Benedict dedicated this past year as the Year for Priests.
The Vigil of Prayer concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following a time of silent prayer and adoration presided over by the Holy Father.
On Friday the Holy Father invited all the priests present to Concelebrate the Eucharish with him in St. Peter's Square. Someone mentioned that it was the largest Papal concelebration in the history of the Church. There was certainly three to four hundred bishops as well who formed their part of the procession inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Here was our group in the Square after the Mass. Bishop Don was brave and wore his cassock. The temperature was well into the 30's that day and no respite from the Roman Sun during the two hours or so of the Mass. It was nonetheless very beautiful and moving to see that great number of priests concelebrating this special Mass.
Fr. Vitalis was the one who took the large group picture, so here are the Regina priests, including Fr. Vitalis. The yellow hats (papal colours) were part of the kit given to all the priests who attended to assure that they had some protection from the sun.
Some of our group left us at the end of the celebrations in Rome while some remained for a couple of days to see a bit more of the Eternal City. We visited the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. The early Christians strongly disapproved of the Roman practice of cremation, largely because the process of burning a loved one on top of old household furniture seemed disrespectful and there was not a great regard for gathering up the ashes.
Christians preferred to bury the whole body as did the Jewish community in Rome. The Romans did not allow the burial of bodies or ashes within the walls of the city, so Christians and Jews began the practice of using underground vaults or tufa stone caves on property outside the city walls to bury their dead. These were often situated on property donated by the wealthier members of their communities, and continue to bear their names. This is the case for the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.
This particular catacomb is of special interest for its wall paintings, which give us, among other things, the first known painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the child Jesus on her lap. We concluded our visit by celebrating the Eucharist in the Catacombs as the Christian people of Rome did 1,700 years ago.
Another interesting and prayerful occasion happened when we joined the Community of Saint'Edidio for evening prayer in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. There is this wonderful mosaic of Christ with Mary over the altar. Thomas Cahil in his book on the Middle Ages speaks of the progress during which the people of Italy ceased to be Romans and became Italians. He used this mosaic as an illustration. Most often, in the ancient mosaics of Christ, Jesus is presented as the "Creator of All" and is usually portrayed as being very serious, majestic and almost severe. Here Jesus is "Italian" - open faced, handsome and his arm around his mother's shoulder. We often hear stories of how Italian men are devoted to their mothers. Here Jesus has his arm around his beloved "mama" and she is sitting there very proud of her Son.
On the Wednesday, Bishop Don and myself played hookey from the moring lecture and went to the Pope's audience in St. Peter's Square. There is usually an opportunity for bishops to sit up with the Holy Father and briefly say hello to him afterwards. These times have been particularly difficult because of personal attacks on his leadership in dealing with sexual abuse cases. So, I felt that it was important for me to let him know that the Catholic people of Regina give him their love and support as he deals with these very difficult issues. I had the chance to do that after the audience.
I will share with you a few pictures taken in the Sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica while we were preparing for the Masses we were to celebrate there. It was interesting to see that the Sacristy is bigger than many of our churches here in Saskatchewan
Bishop Don and myself were "properly" attired for our visit to celebrate the Eucharist at the Tomb of St. Peter. Every Bishop needs a good Deacon, and here we were blessed with Deacon Geoff Young from Saskatoon.
Our group was in one corner waiting to be taken to the place where we would celebrate the Mass. Those who care for the Sacristy are very gracious and helpful and often under great stress as they handle great numbers of priests and bishops who come to celebrate the Eucharist in the Basilica.
Fr Danilo and Fr Thang at the base of one of the pillars.
Fr Brian Meredith, Rector of Holy Rosary Cathedral here in Regina with Deacon Geoff. As we proceed with renovations to our cathedral, I hope that he wasn't taking any ideas from St. Peter's!
Here is a view of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, looking out from behind the main altar. It was here that the conferences and times of prayer were held for the priests. The body of St. Paul is buried below the altar. It was originally planned to have all the priests come to St. Paul's for the events, however so many more priests than planned had come that it was necessary to divide the group in two with the other language groups gathering in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral church of Rome.
Mass that day was presided over by Cardinal Tarcissio Bertone, the Pope's Secretary of State, seen standing in the background at the Chair. In front are some of the Cardinals present at the Mass, including, second from the right, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who gave the reflection that morning on the challenges that the church faces from without and within, "
We pray together for the unity of the Church and for the sanctification of priests, these heralds of the good news of salvation," he said.
And here are a few of our group standing outside the Basilica of St. Paul after the morning session.
There was a special occasion on Sunday when we joined Bishop Don at Mass with the Caravita Community, an International Catholic Community in Rome. This was Bishop Don's "home parish" as it were when he was working in Rome for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It was nice to see how delighted they were in welcoming him back and their happiness that he had been ordained a Bishop. With us in this picture is Archbishop Emilius Goulet, Archbishop Emeritus of St. Boniface in Manitoba.
After the Mass everyone made their way to the Church of St. Georgio in the shadow of the Capitoline Hill for a very pleasant "pot luck" lunch. Seen here on the left is Bishop Brian Farrell who is the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and was one of the principal co-consecrators at Bishop Don's ordination to the Episcopate in March.