Last Sunday, of course, we were blessed to celebrate the beatification of Pope John Paul II in Rome. I was happy to be a part of that celebration.
As I have said so many times, I never thought I would live long enough to know two people who were beatified — and know them so well having been with them many, many times — Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa.
Since the time I was a young priest, I had met both of them on a number of different occasions, and have had wonderful opportunities not only be with them, but to have conversations with them, listen to their wisdom and observe their deeds. So, being at Mother Teresa’s beatification, and now John Paul II’s, was just a thrill.
Certainly no other human being was seen by as many people on the planet as Blessed John Paul II.
It’s obvious that the lives of the people who saw him personally, or even just heard him, were transformed by his ministry. It is because of this impact he had that so many people wanted to be a part of this celebration.
Estimates are that there were about 1.5 million people in Rome for the beatification.
The Holy See, very wisely, planned a number of events because it would have been very frustrating if people had gone with their hearts set on being at the beatification Mass ended up being several blocks away from St. Peter’s because they could not get near it.
So, there was a beautiful vigil Saturday night at the Circus Maximus with the praying of the Rosary and a recorded message from the Holy Father.
There were also witness talks by Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who was the French sister cured of Parkinson’s disease through the intercession of Blessed John Paul; Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who had been Pope John Paul’s personal secretary for so many years, and Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, who had been the communications director of the Holy See and was very close to John Paul II.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre
The Mass of Beatification itself was a glorious celebration. Pope Benedict delivered a magnificent homily, which was so personal because of his years of close collaboration with the Holy Father.
Virtually the whole College of Cardinals was there and they were all invited to concelebrate the Mass. I was very pleased, because I did not think we would all concelebrate.
After the Mass, we went in procession back into the basilica, where we were able to venerate the body of Pope John Paul II.
We were followed by the heads of state — which were many — and finally by the people. The basilica remained open until about 3:00 in the morning. I went to the plaza at about 11:30 at night and there was still a column of people waiting to venerate the body.
Before I left for Rome, I had an interview with R.D. Sahl of New England Cable News where I spoke on Pope John Paul II’s life legacy and the beatification. I want to share it with you here:
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The next day there was a Mass of Thanksgiving, where Cardinal Bertone celebrated Mass in the piazza in honor of the new blessed. That also attracted hundreds of thousands of people.
After that Mass, the body was transferred to the altar of St. Sebastian. That altar is between the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Pieta as you go into the basilica on the right hand side. It’s very accessible and very visible — a wonderful spot for it.
St. Sebastian is the patron of athletes and of course the Holy Father was a great athlete. I thought of that as I toured the new Pope John Paul exhibit at the Vatican Museum.
I had run into Dr. Domenico Giani, who is in charge of Vatican security and he asked me if I would like a private tour before the exhibit officially opened. Of course, I was very happy to accept his offer.
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While I was in Rome, I also visited Venerable English College.
There are many interesting historical aspects of the College, among them is its association with English martyrs.
Historically there was a tension between England and the Holy See, particularly during the period when so many of the English priests were being martyred. There was a time when the priests would leave the English College heading back to England knowing they would never see their companions again, that they would probably never return to Rome. St. Philip Neri who lived very close to there also made a commentary about them once. Seeing a group of students from the English College he said simply, “Those are martyrs.”
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While in Rome, I also met the new patriarch of the Maronite Catholics, Béshara Rái.
I told him how close we are to the Maronite priests and people here in Boston, and how it was my privilege to give a retreat here a few years ago to all of their priests. He invited me to visit him in Lebanon.
I then discovered the new statue of St. Maron in the niches around the outside of St. Peter’s.
They have cleaned St. Peter’s, and it looks glorious! They put in these new statues, and one of them is of St. Maron, who is a Syriac monk and a contemporary of St. Patrick. He, of course, is also the founder of the Maronites. The Maronites are one of the largest Oriental, or Eastern Catholic, rites. They have always been Catholic, as there has never been a schismatic or orthodox group break off from them.
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By Wednesday, I was back home in Boston.
That night, as I do several times per year, I met with the priests who have been ordained five years or fewer for a Holy Hour, dinner and reflection. We always have a very good turnout. It’s something I think the priests, and myself, find it very life-giving — to be able to talk about priesthood, ministry and the spiritual life of priests.
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Thursday afternoon I met at the Cathedral with Bishop Lesnuchristos, who is the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
We have Father Abina here on loan from the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. His auxiliary bishop is visiting the Ethiopian Catholics in the United States. Although our Ethiopian community here in Boston is not very large, it is significant and they gather for their liturgies and other events at our Cathedral.
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Finally, I want to mention that the film There Be Dragons is opening in the Boston area this weekend.
It is an epic film about St. Josemaría Escriva as a young priest during the Spanish civil war and is directed by Roland Joffé, who also directed The Mission. St. Josemaría’s life was based on calling people to make holy the little ordinary experiences of daily life and encouraging everyone to strive to live a saintly life.
A few months ago, it was screened at a national gathering of U.S. Bishops. The film does a very good job of highlighting the power of love and forgiveness, and making good choices during times of difficulty.
There are many resources for family or parish discussion groups at DragonsResources.com that people can use to discuss the film.
If you want to learn more about the film, you can listen to this interview that Scot Landry conducted with the lead actor on this past Wednesday’s The Good Catholic Life radio show followed by a discussion about the film. The Pilot also recently published a review of the movie.
The more you know about it, the more I think you’ll agree it is a film worth seeing.
Until next week, peace be with you!