As we wrap up the whirlwind visit to Rome this October, the last couple of days have been filled with plenty of blessed moments. On Monday, we had the chance to return once again to St. John Lateran for a Mass of Thanksgiving recognizing the 7 new saints proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI the day prior, most notably St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
More than a thousand canadian and american pilgrims came together for a beautiful celebration at the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, with Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops President (and ordinary of the Archdiocese of Edmonton) Archbishop Richard Smith presiding. The Mass was also broadcast back home to Canada via Salt & Light Catholic Television.
The liturgical celebration was the ideal bookend to a weekend that celebrated both Saint Kateri and the other six saints canonized but also provided a chance for some inner reflection.
As Cardinal Ouellet referenced in his remarks during the Saturday evening prayer service, "Kateri was a saint of the first evangelization, you must be a saint of the new evangelization." Powerful words for us all to consider.
Tuesday in Rome brought a wide variety of experiences, working with Cardinal Collins to take that message of evangelization to heart and practice. The afternoon began with an interview at Vatican Radio with Irish journalist Emer McCarthy. She and the cardinal had a chance to discuss the canonization, the church's relationship with the First Nations community, Year of Faith as well as his possession of his honorary church in Rome (see below).
Following the interview, we had a chance to make use of the facilities of the Vatican Radio office (most notably their rooftop) for two special moments with young people across the ocean. Cardinal Collins had the opportunity to SKYPE with students at Blessed (soon to be St.) Kateri schools in both the Toronto Catholic District School Board and York Catholic District School Board. A really beautiful experience to allow His Eminence interact virtually from Rome to Toronto using new media to evangelize and communicate with these elementary students. They posed questions about the canonization weekend, asked about his favorite saints and even asked some personal questions (what's your favorite ice cream, your fave hockey player, etc.).
Considering there is a Synod underway at the Vatican on the New Evangelization, one need not look any further than a random rooftop in Rome to see a shepherd of the church communicating with his flock a continent away. A truly memorable experience for all involved!
A short time later, Cardinal Collins made his way to San Patrizio (St. Patrick's Parish) the Irish national church in Rome and titular church of His Eminence. Every cardinal is given the honorary role as pastor of a church in Rome and it's fitting that Cardinal Collins and his irish heritage was honored by making him "pastor" of St. Parick's in Rome. An intimate Mass with plenty of local media on hand as well as 4 bishops and 20 priests served as the final official event connected to the elevation of Thomas Collins to the College of Cardinals in his first visit to Rome since February 2012. The Cardinal's coat of arms remains on the outside of the parish and in his regular visits to Rome he will no doubt return to be with the people of the parish.
So in short, it's been quite the last few days. They've been filled with countless blessings, seven new saints to join the ranks of our catholic "all star" team, personal encounters, prayers, laughter, fellowship. One might say that you never know what you'll find when you go on pilgrimage but you can be assured that you walk away a different person, filled with new memories and a spiritual high that can carry one for days and weeks to come.
We hope that everyone who came to Rome had that personal encounter with Christ. During this Year of Faith, it's all the more fitting that we look for opportunities to draw close to Him. Whether that be at the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, a classroom chatting virtually with Cardinal Collins or a First Nations member experiencing their first pilgrimage abroad. All are moments to be cherished as part of our faith journey.
God continues to work in wonderful ways intersecting at the moments of our life when we need it most and, at times, when we least expected. We return home to Canada or wherever home is grateful for this opportunity to see our faith in action, to see the heroes of our church honored and mindful that our work continues. If there's ever a way to refuel the spiritual tank, we had it this weekend. Now we need to take that energy and share it with the world. The challenge begins today. Thank you St. Kateri and all the saints for inspiring us with your stories and example of living a faith that acts.
You've passed the baton our way. It's up to us to run with it. Let's embrace that challenge and begin the next stage of the journey today. Are you with me?