The pilgrimage to Rome and the various events commemorating the canonization of St. Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha are now part of the rich history of our diocese. Although the ceremonies are over the memories linger in our minds and hearts. About 400 members of our diocese were in Rome for the celebration. Most came on various pilgrimages, but others came on their own or are studying in the Eternal City. Our group ranged in age from their 20s to the upper 80s. Throughout the pilgrimage we negotiated the demands made on pilgrims in a foreign land with good spirits and gratitude for such an experience.
In walking the streets, we met Sister Mariana Thayer, OP, a Dominican Sister from Nashville, who grew up in Sacred Heart Basilica Parish. When she entered religious life, she took the name Mariana in honor of Mother Marianne. Sister Mariana and another member of the Dominican Community, Sister Kateri, where privileged to be at the canonization. I also encountered Brother Christopher O’Brien, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Baldwinsville who is currently studying with the Legionnaires of Christ and two other legionnaires who have roots in our diocese. I met a retired priest from the Diocese of Buffalo, Father Thomas Crane, who had taught me Scripture during my seminary years, as well as other priests and sisters whom I knew both in Buffalo and in Ogdensburg.
Every trip to Rome — whether it is a person’s first or 50th — is special. A priest friend of mine who visits regularly says one should never go to Rome without seeing something new. One can never exhaust the possibilities. However on our trip, we saw much that was old and for many it was a new experience. The trip to Rome took us back to the days of Peter and Paul. In the Eternal City, they witnessed to their faith by teaching and preaching and ultimately by the martyrdom they endured.
For our first Mass in Rome we traveled to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian where thousands of Christians were buried between the second and sixth centuries. It is never difficult to be impressed with the intricate walkways and burial places of our ancestors in the faith. We were fortunate to celebrate Mass there at the Church of San Sebastian.
On October 18, we celebrated Mass at The Church of Santa Maria della Grazie alle Fornaci. The word fornaci means furnace in Italian. The Church is located in what was the bakery district of Rome where the rolls that are part of an Italian breakfast were baked throughout the night. In earlier years, Mass was celebrated every half-hour throughout the night so that the bakers could attend Mass. It remains a very beautiful church and one that we all enjoyed visiting.
On Friday morning, October 19, we left Rome for Assisi to visit the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare. While we were in Assisi, we celebrated Mass in the basilicas dedicated to Francis and Clare as well as visited St. Mary of the Angels and the Portiuncula Chapel. This medieval town so dear to all who follow the Franciscan way of life, and many others besides, is always a favorite place to visit. It is the city of peace where we experienced a peaceful and sacred atmosphere.
We returned to Rome on Saturday for a tour of the city. In preparation for the canonization, we celebrated Vespers at the Church of San Gregorio Settimo. We were joined by pilgrims from Hawaii and others who had knowledge of Mother Marianne.
Sunday morning saw us all rising long before dawn. The canonization was scheduled for 9:30 but we left the hotel at 5:30. We were not the only ones who arrived early! When we reached St. Peter’s there were more than 20,000 people in line to enter the square. As everywhere else, security is an issue and we needed to pass through security checkpoints. By the time the ceremony began there were more than 100,000 people in the square. The seven people canonized all had their followers. There were many pilgrims from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Philippines, Canada and the United States of America.
It was a great privilege for me to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father. There were about 50 bishops and priests who were chosen to concelebrate, many others chosen to distribute Holy Communion and scores of other bishops and priests attending the ceremony.
On Monday morning, we celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Apostles, the Church under the care of the Conventual Franciscan Friars. The Conventual Franciscans serve here in our diocese at Assumption, in Minoa and Bridgeport and in Binghamton. It was a truly prayerful celebration. The warmth of the Friars welcome and the time spent with them and in the Church was a fitting conclusion to the pilgrimage.
A visit to Rome reminds us that our Church is the Church of catacombs and cathedrals, of monks and missionaries, of popes and peasants, of men and women in every age called to holiness of life. Certainly all of us in Central New York can be justly proud of St. Marianne and St. Kateri. Their lives remind us of the call to holiness which has been given to each one of us and of our obligation to respond to that call with generosity and sincerity so that in the days and years ahead others will come to know a loving God.
I invite all of you to look upon this Year of Faith as an opportunity to encounter Christ and to experience the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Saint Marianne and Saint Kateri are wonderful examples of people who where in tune with their times, its needs and challenges, and wholeheartedly committed themselves to the spread of the Gospel. With renewed vigor and ardor, the marks of the new evangelization, may we invite others to join us in the journey of faith.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.