I have heard more than once from people that when you come to Rome, you realize how universal the Church truly is. For many of us, our only experience of the Catholic Church is our parish or, perhaps, Trinity High School. We forget that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of Catholics outside the United States.
That point was made decidedly clear to me today as I attended Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica. The Mass was scheduled to begin at 9:30am so we lined up outside just after 7am...and we were all the way down from the entrance! Luckily Archbishop Lacroix's family got there early and let us join with them closer to the front. It seems other folks had the same idea as some sort of Bavarian/German/Austrian band came into Saint Peter's Square while we were waiting. They were dressed in lederhosen and dirndl and they entertained the crowd with their music. I noticed, however, that they were closer and closer to the front and as the gates opened, they just cut right in! Genius but also pure evil...especially to those who were waiting thousands of people back.
Anyway, we got our seats around 8:30 or so. We had decent seats to the left of the altar. Mr. Mailloux, Mrs. Henning, Mr. Nelson, and I sat together while David Gagnon sat in the second row with the Lacroix family! The priests concelebrated the Mass and helped distribute Communion. The Mass began and there was Pope Benedict! He was looking frail and he sounded it too. The Holy Father is 84 and today celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest.
I knew this going in but what struck me the most was that the Mass was almost all in Italian and Latin (the second reading was in English and there was some smattering of other languages but for the most part, it was Italian and Latin). Even though I didn't understand much of the Mass (especially the pope's homily which was ALL in Italian), I still "got it." We could follow along, we knew what they were saying even if we didn't understand, and we knew the symbolism of everything.
All around us were people from different countries - nuns from India, women from Africa, Korean people dressed in traditional clothing, Italians, Jamaicans, etc. Despite our many differences in language and culture, we were all united by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, and, most especially, our faith in Christ. On a somewhat related note, however, people can be completely un-Christ like at these big Papal Masses. We were elbowed and pushed by many a people going in...including little old nuns!
The highlight of the Mass, of course, was the reception of the Pallium by the 40 archbishops. The archbishops came from all over the world - Latvia, Columbia, Benin, Ecuador, Guatemala, Italy, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Chile, Slovenia, Malawi, India, Nigeria, Angola, Jamaica, Wales, France, Canada, and the United States. Archbishops from Indonesia, Haiti, Liberia, India, and Benin were unable to attend. They each knelt before the pope individually and he placed the Pallium over their shoulders and then spoke with the archbishops. After each archbishop received his Pallium, his contingent would clap widely.
It was so humbling to be there among all these people from all over the world sharing in our common faith. It was incredibly eye opening and reminded me that we are indeed a universal Church.
After Mass, Pope Benedict spoke from his apartment window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking the square. He said a few words and prayed the Angelus. From here we went to a reception at the Canadian Pontifical College (a seminary for Candians sent to study in Rome). Archbishop Lacroix was beaming and his family was so proud. The Lacroix family is amazing and the Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See commented on how much joy they all exude. This evening we went to another reception at the Canadian Embassy which was attended by many dignitaries, including the American Ambassador to the Holy See and the Mayor of Quebec.
Tomorrow we get to see Pope Benedict again at an audience in Pope Paul VI Hall. I don't think we will get to meet him personally as this audience, I believe, is for all 40 archbishops and their guests. But it will be nice to see the Holy Father again.
If you're interested in watching the Mass on-line, you can click here. Or, you can watch a brief report below:
More tomorrow...off to bed.