San Pietro in Vaticano

The Lenten Station Church for Saturday of the first week of Lent is San Pietro in Vaticano. Read more about the Church here, not that it needs much introduction.

Holy Year Pilgrimage

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy we too are encouraged to make pilgrimage. The tradition of the Jubilee year in the Church is originally focused on the four major basilicas of Rome, St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. Thankfully Pope Francis has recognized that most of us cannot afford to just get up and travel to Rome (as much as we might like to), therefore bishops around the world have set up holy doors in their own dioceses. In our Diocese of Jefferson City, Bishop John R. Gaydos has designated the following Churches to have a holy door:

  • The Cathedral of St. Joseph
  • The Church of St. Peter in Brush Creek (where Fr. Augustine Tolton was baptized, whose cause for canonization is in process)
  • The Church of St. Patrick in Laurie in honor of the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church
  • The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg

I encourage you all to make plans to visit at least one (or more) of these sites during the upcoming year. It could make for a lovely family day trip on a Saturday. Travel to the Church, pass through the door, then go out to lunch as a family. If you have any questions or need some tips about organizing such a day trip, don’t hesitate to call me, I’d be happy to help.

The point of pilgrimage and the point of passing through the doors in not a competition to see how many doors or how many times you can walk through a door. Rather, it is about intentionally seeking God’s help to open the doors of our hearts so that we may recognize, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts” (Rom 5:5). We seek God’s mercy and forgiveness for the times we have failed to be Christ-like to others and ask for his strength to do so in the future.

News Tribune article

In the last few days I have received a few messages about an article that was published in the Jefferson City News Tribune.

I am mentioned in the article for having helped a young couple from the diocese to get tickets to attend a papal audience with Pope Francis as newlyweds and thus meet the Holy Father. Thankfully it was a successful venture and seemed to have a great impact on the faith of the couple.

What a joy it was for me to get to meet them, take them on a tour of St. Peter’s and to help them have a wonderful experience in Rome.

Here’s a link to the article:

Local newlyweds get blessing from the pope

Venerating the relics of St. John Paul II

The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.
The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

This afternoon we received an e-mail from the Rector that the College had received a relic of St. John Paul II. It is a piece of his bloodied cassock from the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.

We were given an opportunity to venerate the relic after Evening Prayer. As I walked up the aisle I still felt some pain in my feet and general soreness in my muscles from the experience of the Canonization.

Yet as I got closer to venerating the relic I came to realize and reflect on the fact that the pain or soreness I was feeling paled in comparison with being shot multiple times and suffering significant blood loss.

After being shot, St. John Paul II continued to lead the Church, traveling the world, for more than 20 years.

A good example of perseverance and courage to continue through one’s struggles.

St. John Paul II… Pray for us!

Canonization Experience

71,004 is the officially listed seating capacity of Farout Field in Columbia, where fans gather to watch the Mizzou Tigers play football each fall. 1.3 million has been the reported combined attendance for the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II for those in the vicinity of St. Peter’s as well as those watching on screens across the city. That’s over 18 Farout Fields filled to capacity.

As the weeks and days approached for the canonization I began to realize just how difficult it is to even come close to comprehending a crowd of that size.

As the city continued to fill up with pilgrims in the final days leading up to the ordination I left to help lead a retreat for a group of families from all over Italy. We planned the retreat so we could return on Saturday, in time for the canonization. Those who desired to do so could go to St. Peter’s Square and wait all night. That’s just what I did.

Upon return to the Eternal City I ran across town as quickly as one could given the increased traffic. I packed a bag with some water, snacks, sleeping bag, and my breviary. I made my way down the hill and met up with a group of fellow seminarians from the Pontifical North American College.

There we created our space to sleep, hang out and pray amongst the sea of pilgrims. It was quite the camp site. There was a great excitement in the air as many were singing in several different languages, flags from countries all of the world could be seen waving above the crowds.

At one point in the night we were all allowed onto the Via della Conciliazione, the street leading up to St. Peter’s Square. As the crowds made their way onto the street, I was separated from my group. At that point we were still not allowed into St. Peter’s Square, so everyone had to remain standing in a crowd taking up the length of the street.

After an initial wave of movement, I found myself with a few Italians who belong to Communion and Liberation movement. Having just returned from a retreat of another movement within the Church provided for a nice conversation about the different movements within the Church and their respective charisms.

When the crowd finally settled in for the long haul, I found myself surrounded people from Italy, France, Poland, Romania, and Spain. In particular there were groups of high school students from France and Poland. Both groups loved to sing. At times they even sang back and forth with each other in the different languages. Neither spoke the other’s language, yet they were able to communicate a great joy between each other because of their common faith. Displays of flags and the singing of songs at events such as this are concrete expressions of the true Catholicity, that is, the universality, of the Church.

After many hours standing around, we finally made our way forward towards St. Peter’s Square. I ended up on the very edge of St. Peter’s Square in the area that is officially known as the Pope Pius XII Square.

As for the Mass itself, there were two moments that stick out in particular. The first came during the Formula for Canonization, the moment when the Pope declares the blessed to be a saint, and the second during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Everyday each of us say any number of words, most of them inconsequential. Only in certain cases do our words have an effect on reality. When a baseball umpire declares a player “out!”, the player is actually, “out.” No matter how many times we yell “Safe!” at the television, nothing changes, the player is still, “out.” This phenomenon, on a much more important matter, is what makes the Formula of Canonization so special.

Only the Pope, on behalf of the universal Church, has the authority to declare someone a saint. So when he prays the Formula of Canonization, he does so with that same authority, and the Church from that moment forward and forever enroll that person, or in this case St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, among all the saints.

In our diocese, many are praying and working hard for the beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton. While it is a good and holy thing, something to be encouraged, that we continue working and praying for his cause, until the Pope declares him to be among the beatified, he will still be considered a Servant of God by the Church.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to directly hear the long-used Formula of Canonization. The words prayed in Latin by the Pope are the same words that have been prayed by many popes throughout the history of the Church at many canonizations. While on retreat in the days leading up to the canonization, I stayed at the shrine of the Redemptorist priest, St. Gerard Majella. There in a display amongst his other effects, was the Missal used at this Canonization in 1904, opened to the Formula of Canonization.

Two days later I heard those same words coming from Pope Francis. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Specifically, it is a moment in which one feels a particularly connection not only with those being canonized, but all the saints, a connection between Heaven and Earth. It is a particularly intimate moment between God and man. It is this same connection between God and Man that also made the Eucharistic prayer such a powerful experience.

After standing for nearly 12 hours straight without sitting, we finally arrived at the Eucharistic Prayer. Just like thousands of other times when I have attended Mass, I knelt. Yet, this time, in part due to the physical circumstances, kneeling too became a deep spiritual experience in itself. Kneeling becomes something that many of us take for granted, and when that happens, we lose the true significance of the act.

In this case I was already physically weak, tired, and sore, yet kneeling on hard cobblestones became a great grace. That is because in that moment, I knew exactly why we were kneeling, for Christ, for his sacrifice on the Cross, and his presence in the Eucharist. All of the supposed suffering I was experiencing physically, suddenly seemed like nothing, as it truly was in comparison with his sacrifice on the Cross.

In the end, the entire canonization experience, beginning with waiting in line with fellow Catholics from all over the world, to the Formula of Canonization, and finally receiving the Eucharist, truly was an experience that can be summed up with the first line of that same Formula of Canonization. It was an experience “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life.”

New apostolate

In addition to our studies, prayer and community responsibilities, seminarians also engage in apostolic works. I’ve written about this in the past as for the better part of my first two years in Rome I served as tour guide for St. Peter’s Basilica and assisted in the Office of US Visitors to the Vatican.

This year I have received a new assignment. I now assist with campus ministry at the John Felice Rome Center, the Rome based campus of Loyola University Chicago. It has been a great privilege and learning opportunity to accompany these students on the journeys. In particular studying abroad provides a new set of challenges and opportunities.

On Sundays we join the students for Mass in the evening and a few times a month we have fellowship with pizza after Mass as well. Additionally, during the week we host and organize a variety of activities these range from Praise and Worship to a vocations night and instead of “Theology on Tap” we have “Theology Uncorked.” Once a semester we also take the students on a pilgrimage to Assisi.

One year later…

Today is March 13, 2014. A year ago I stood in the Piazza di San Pietro as Pope Francis walked out onto the balcony to greet the world. What an exciting year it has been to see all that has taken place in the Church. I feel very fortunate to be here with a “front row seat” to all that is going on in the life of the Church.

The last few days have provided ample opportunity to reflect on the incredible experiences a year ago as the Church transitioned from Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis. Last night, Cardinal O’Brien and Greg Burke visited the college to share some of their reflections.

Here are some of the reflections I wrote a year ago as everything was taking place.

Pondering on the Papal Transition of 2013 from Rome

Reaction to the Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict’s Last Audience



Vigil for Peace

Yesterday I returned to Rome in the morning to begin the new school year. In the evening Pope Francis hosted a vigil for peace as a part of the worldwide day of fasting and penance for peace.

So, jet lagged as I may have been, I knew this would be something worth attending. And I was right, it was a beautiful and prayerful evening.

This event stood out to me in relation to other Papal events because of the spiritual attitude and atmosphere in the square, it was very profound.

I was not able to stay until the end because I was falling asleep standing up and starting to topple over, however I did make it through the Rosary, Litany, and the Pope’s homily.

As I reflected this morning about what made last night so different I came to the following conclusion: all of those present had the same purpose, peace.

So often with Papal Masses, Angelus prayers, audiences etc. many people attend for the sole purpose of seeing the Pope.

Last night was different, yes the Pope was present, and we were blessed to have him leading us in prayer, but the people weren’t there just to see him, they were there to pray for peace.

A beautiful and humbling way to return to Rome and kick off the new year.

Please join me, Pope Francis, and the whole Church in praying for peace, particularly in Syria and Egypt.

Following up on St. Peter’s Tours

A few days ago I wrote about leading tours of St. Peter’s Basilica and what a joy it for me.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting a journalist from the New York Post on one of our public tours.

Today one of my fellow former journalists turned seminarian sent me this article. It’s a very nice endorsement and affirmation of our hard work.

Leading St. Peter’s Tours

One of the many things that I enjoy about my experience here in Rome is my “apostolate.” An apostolate is an assignment we the seminarians receive out in the city, this comes from the word apostle, or one being sent.

At the NAC, we have quite a variety of apostolates, some work in schools, parishes, hospitals, soup kitchens, nursing homes, universities.

For the past three semesters my apostolate has been with the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican.

For the past two semesters I have also served as the “capo” or leader of this apostolate, which currently has 23 seminarians assigned. As I said above, it has been a great joy.

We offer free tours of St. Peter’s Basilica M-F at 2:15 P.M. during the school year. We also work at the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican. There we help with the distribution of tickets for Papal audiences and Masses.

Whether it’s in St. Peter’s Square or at the office, we meet people from so many different backgrounds, perspectives and walks of life.

We try our best to meet the people wherever they may be on their journey, and then help them along the way.

Typically the tours are somewhat small, and so I try to listen and watch how everyone is reacting so I can learn where they are on their own personal journey, then go to meet them and bring them through the basilica.

These have led to many inspiring, intense and emotional spiritual experiences for many. There are so many beautiful and inspiring stories. Yet, it is we the guides too who are inspired and amazed. Inspired by the love and devotion of so many faithful Catholics who are so excited for the opportunity to be in Rome, and amazed at how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of so many who come not expecting much, but who become moved and changed by the experiences.

It’s a great opportunity for me to learn how to listen, how to teach, and how to love. A way to learn how to become the Shepherd I believe God is calling me to be.

(Update: See my new post on the endorsement of our tours by the New York Post)