words by D. Richert
With 56 others, we set out from U.S.A. on a pilgrimage to Italy. We languished on the laguna in Venice, we strolled through time in Assisi, we mingled with hundreds in Padua, and marvelled at artistry in Florence. But, nothing compared to this one moment in Rome on a bright and sunny Wednesday three years ago.
We celebrated each day in your beautiful country with a mass of thanksgiving and that day was no different. We rose early and arrived at St. Peter's Square so early, only birds were there to greet us along with a couple of Swiss guards. We were led through the basilica, up to the altar. Over my left shoulder, was an exquisite, imposing statue of St. Andrew and suddenly our group was being led down a disappearing staircase to the level below.
As we immersed from the passageway, we entered a room divided into many prayer spaces. A lone priest celebrating mass (or practicing his mass prayers), a group from Polynesia worshipping in their native language, a small group of people huddled in prayer in another.
We walked liked dutiful students following their teacher when suddenly the line slowed. The tomb of Pope John XXIII, the Pope of my youth, the Pope under whose guidance the mass was allowed to be celebrated in the language of the people. I stood for a moment and remembered. I remembered the chapel veils, the gloves, the long lines of those thirsty for the grace of forgiveness, the sound of people kneeling and standing in unison during the Way of the Cross. As my childhood memories began to take me out of the moment, I found myself standing in front of the tomb for Pope John Paul II. Suddenly, I was jolted back to present day. I began to relive the days of his funeral, the stories of his remarkable life, and the memory of his traveling pontificate. Am I really here? Am I here where so many others have walked? So many others, who like me, are pilgrims on a journey.
This morning's journey led to a small chapel down a secondary passageway. The crowd of 57 gathered filled the space entirely. We stood together shoulder-to-shoulder, without spare spaces. The priests traveling with us began our collective prayer. All of the voices sounded like one. We were in sync, the sound of our voices echoing throughout the small space. The presence of the Lord felt so thick and real. The feeling continued through the Liturgy of the Eucharist and "the breaking of the bread" was startlingly reminiscent of the first one so long ago. I found myself moved to tears. I felt safe, I felt exhilarated, I felt at home. After our celebration, I looked around the room and saw I was not alone. For many of us, it was a "true taste of the heavenly celebration" it is.