Pilgrims thrilled to get up close to Pope Francis

ROME—On day five of his pilgrimage to Rome, Patrick Lana had his “O-M-M” moment.  It was at Pope Francis’ April 30 general audience. As he arrived for his address, the pontiff passed right next to Lana in his open popemobile.

It was what every pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square hoped for.

“That was my ‘Oh, mama mia!’ moment,” Lana, a parishioner at Christ on the Mountain Church in Lakewood, told the Denver Catholic Register. “What I didn’t realize was what a ceremony the whole general audience is.”

The general audience is an opportunity for those visiting Vatican City to see and hear the pope and receive his blessing. That morning it included a reading from I Corinthians proclaimed in several languages and a catechesis from the pontiff on the gift of understanding from the Holy Spirit.

Lana was among the 45 faithful in the Denver Archdiocese’s pilgrimage group to the Eternal City for the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII. That he and his fellow pilgrims got so close to the pope in the packed square for his weekly Wednesday audience was exciting – particularly after the group didn’t get into the square for the April 27 canonization, but instead watched it from a side-street.

Lana was touched by the pope’s April 30 message.

“Born of our sharing in God’s life ‎through faith and baptism, the gift of ‎understanding enables us to see in all things ‎the unfolding of his eternal plan of love,” Pope Francis said.

Man’s intellect isn’t enough, we need to implore the Holy Spirit for understanding, the pontiff said.

“He said there’s a special spiritual insight with (the gift of) understanding,” Lana said. “We need more of that.”

Dee Taylor, who teaches religion to middle-schoolers at Our Lady of Fatima School in Lakewood, said she plans to share the pope’s message with her students.

“That was a beautiful homily on how we can use our intelligence to get closer to God but we need to use it with the Holy Spirit,” she said, adding that when the pope drove by she blew him kisses. “His face was so beautiful, so genuine and sincere.”

Ron Johanson, of Our Lady of the Valley Church in Windsor, said the event was over too quickly – especially the pope’s ride by him in his popemobile.

“The Holy Father was like this facing me when I raised my camera, but he was like this when I took the picture,” he said motioning. With a chuckle he added, “I got a nice photo of his back!”

Johanson’s wife Janet added: “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I wish there was another (general audience) this week.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash