What an incredible experience it was to be in Rome last Sunday. Over two million people gathered to witness the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope john Paul II. Pax took about 60 pilgrims from England, including six priests. We were fortunate to start our pilgrimage on the Saturday morning, with a private Mass at the Divine Mercy church, S.Spirito in Sassia, originally a Saxon church. I say private, but in fact it became a public Mass, with over 300 pilgrims there, and our priests were able to greet them in three languages, Polish, Italian and English, before celebrating the Mass in English, with the Greek and Latin plainchant sung by all.
Afterwards, we could see people already camping out near to the church,where a big screen had been erected, and also near to St Peter’s Square. People queued for over three hours to visit the Basilica of St. Peter on the Saturday, but no one was allowed to take up a vantage point in the square itself until 3am on the Sunday morning. I was very English, and with Judith, waited until 8.30, after we had had breakfast in our hotel in the Prati district of Rome, and then walked to a vantage point near to Castel S. Angelo where a screen had been positioned.
Although quite far from the altar in St Peter’s Square, we felt that we were taking part in the Mass, along with our Polish, Italian, South American, African and Spanish neighbours.
When we, following Pope Francis’s request, offered the sign of peace to our neighbours, we offered a prayer for all the believers in ‘nothing in particular’ who had signed a letter to The Times the previous week, alleging that my country was no longer Christian. I even prayed for the ubiquitous politically-correct Polly Toynbee of Grauniad fame. With all of the millions in Rome, and the billion or so Catholics (and non-Catholics) watching on television all over the world, who can seriously say that Christianity, still the world’s most-practiced religion is irrelevant? Mother Teresa always said that in Europe, there is poverty, but not material poverty, spiritual poverty. What goes round comes round, and it is my firm belief that Europe will be rechristianized from the third world, missionary activity in reverse, so to speak.
Our short pilgrimage to Rome ended with a Mass, celebrated by Fr Anthony at the Church of S. Anna in the Vatican on the Monday morning. Santa Anna is the parish church for workers in the Vatican, and it was here that Pope Francis celebrated his first Sunday Mass after his election as Holy Father in March 2013.
What a wonderful end to the weekend, and although we had not thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain, many of us said that we would definitely return to Rome. Perhaps you would consider coming with us!