pastoral visit of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, an apostolic journey to the United States, was given the theme “Christ,
our Hope.” It truly was a journey of hope, instilling in all of us the possibilities that hope offers us.
If its intention was to build up the Body of Christ here in the United States, it certainly accomplished that. I am
sure that for anyone who witnessed the events of his pilgrimage, whether in Washington or here in New York, the message of
hope was seen as the dominant theme through all Pope Benedict’s days with us.
This past week a lot of people
have been asking me about the events that I attended with our Holy Father Pope Benedict. It would be impossible to describe
the whole range of emotions for anyone who attended these events, even those simply in the crowd and viewing things from a
distance. Like many events that we attend- concerts, sporting events, or rallies, events that we can probably have a
better and more comfortable view on television in the confines of our own living rooms, there is something special about “being
there.” And that, of course, includes attending a Papal Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral or Yankee Stadium.
I have put down some reflections on the events of the weekend of April 19-20, 2008.
For some pictures of the celebrations, please go to
I guess the weekend’s festivities actually began for me
on Friday morning, when at about 10:30 AM, while sitting in my office, I had a surprise visitor- Bishop John McCormack, the
Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, where I worked for ten years before coming to St. Anthony’s. He was in town
for the papal visit, having arrived from Washington, and came to see me at the parish. He had been a frequent guest
to my former parish, and celebrated my farewell Mass. It was so great seeing him. We chatted for a long
time, updating him on my own life and activities, and hearing about the various activities in New Hampshire. Bishop
McCormack wanted to know if I was the mayor of New York yet. (He remembered my activities in Derry, NH. I told
him I was working on it.
I showed Bishop McCormack our beautiful church, and he was, as expected, very impressed.
He then celebrated Mass at our friary chapel before heading out to visit the city.
The Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral- April 19
The Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday, April 19, was for clergy and
religious, and cardinals, bishops, priests, and men and women religious filled Saint Patrick’s to capacity. Personally,
I have never seen so many priests and religious congregated together. One bystander commented “I thought there
was a priest shortage.” Another was heard saying “Where are all these priests on Sundays?”
Of course, we know that those in attendance came from all over the United States, and even beyond.
The day began
very early for the friars attending the Mass: Fr. Pat Boyle, our Vicar Provincial, and Fr. Tom Washburn and Fr. Michael
MacInnis, from our parish in New Milford, Connecticut, met me on the corner of Houston and Thompson at 6 AM to begin our trek
to the Cathedral. We also ran into another of our brothers, Fr. Jim Goode, at St. Patrick’s. We chose to
take the easiest transportation- the subway, and didn’t attract much attention in our brown Franciscan habits riding
the train that early in the morning. We went to the Palace Hotel, the meeting place for the clergy, and put on our vestments.
On the way out of the hotel, we went through metal detectors, our tickets and ID’s were checked, and then walked through
a safety zone to the cathedral, where we took our assigned seats. You could feel the electricity, the excitement anticipating
the arrival of the Holy Father.
Our two hour wait for the arrival of the Pope was filled with beautiful
music from the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra, as well as soloists. The music had a heavy German flavor to it, especially
with music by Mozart, the Pope’s favorite, as well as Beethoven, Bach, one piece by Palestrina, and other composers.
The first sense that things were getting close was the procession of bishops- too many of them to count,
but representing just about every diocese in the country. I spotted some bishops I had known and worked for, and was
particularly excited about seeing Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Texas, who was just made a Cardinal recently. Cardinal
DiNardo was ordained a priest the year after me, and was stationed at the parish next to us when I was assigned to Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. We had a lot of interaction together in those days, and even spent some time together in Rome on a pilgrimage.
He was always a terrific person, but unfortunately, due to the high security, I wasn’t able to get near him. As
a Cardinal, he and the other cardinals accompanied the Holy Father throughout his trip.
At about 9:10, we
could hear the roar of the motorcycles pulling up in front, and hear the screams and cheers of the thousands of people assembled
outside. Everyone began stirring- standing up, getting cameras ready. Some of the shorter congregants (especially
a lot of the nuns but even, I learned later, some of the friars) began standing on the seats to get a better view.
Our Holy Father was greeted at the door and welcomed by Cardinal Egan and Monsignor Ritchie, the Rector of the Cathedral.
The traditional hymn “Christus Vincit” was sung as he entered.
We could tell where the Holy Father
was by the loud cries of welcome and elevating applause, and as he entered the Cathedral, the congregation erupted.
Although it was difficult seeing him at times due to the crowd, I could catch glimpses of him (or at least the top of his
miter) as he processed down the main aisle.
The Pope went to the back sacristy to vest, and then, in a triumphal
procession, came back out to begin the Mass. The celebration opened with a welcome by Cardinal Egan and also by Mayor
The Mass readings were done in Spanish and English. In his homily, the Benedict
spoke of the architecture of the cathedral- with, in traditional gothic style, its structure pointing to heaven. The
stained glass windows can only be appreciated from the inside, where light flows through. We can only truly experience faith
and the life of the church from within, where we see the church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty,
adorned with the Gifts of the Spirit. So too, He reminded us that this must be the focus of our own lives,
always pointing to heaven by word and deed. He told us to be friends to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the stranger,
and to all who suffer. He prayed for a new Pentecost for the church in America, that tongues of fire may pour forth
on all of us.
The Prayers of the Faithful were given in English, Akan (the language of Ghana), Korean, Portuguese,
German, and Chinese.
During the Mass, the silence was deafening, as everyone in the cathedral realized that this
was truly a holy moment in time. You didn’t hear the rustling of papers, the banging of kneelers, or any
of the other things that commonly distract. During the entire Mass I only heard one cell phone ring, which is a pretty
big accomplishment. The distribution of communion was done very well in a pretty orderly fashion.
communion, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, addressed some words to the assembly. The Mass
ended with the singing of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” and then, one of my favorite pieces done by the
choir and orchestra, “Hallelujah” from Beethoven’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives.”
We were told that no one would be allowed to leave the Cathedral until the Pope left, and he spent some time greeting the
assembly and then waving to the thousands of people gathered outside. Finally, after he had departed to a private
dinner at the Cardinal’s residence, we were allowed to leave. The situation at the Palace Hotel was a bit more
hectic, since the hundreds of bishops and priests descended on the various rooms to change back into street clothes. In the
hotel we were able to see many old friends- priests we had studied with in the seminary, former professors, and priests from
neighboring parishes. In our particular room, some priests lost their jackets (all those black jackets can cause a lot
of confusion), but we made it out in one piece and headed back to the subway. The train was a bit more full on the way
back. I overheard a woman asking a man “who are these men in those brown robes?”
“They must be strict Jews. After all, it’s Passover.”
When the four of us got back to the
neighborhood, we stopped at Silver Spurs for lunch. Some people in the restaurant asked if we had come from the Papal
Mass, and wanted to hear about it. But again, like all of New York and especially in Greenwich Village, no one even
looked twice at the brown robed friars eating onion rings and bagels.
The Mass at Yankee Stadium
After celebrating the 9 AM Mass at Saint Anthony’s, parishioners who had tickets to the Yankee Stadium Mass gathered
in front of the church to head north to the Bronx. We were again accompanied by Fr. Tom and Fr. Mike from New Milford.
We boarded the D train at West Fourth Street, and began our mini pilgrimage to attend Mass with the Holy Father. I commented
on the way up that I thought the trains would be more crowded. As soon as we got off at the 161st Street station, we
saw the vast crowd, lined up to walk up the stairs to the Stadium.
Although Yankee Stadium regularly sees capacity
crowds, the level of security slowed everything down. Our entrance was more of a crawl, and it took well over an hour
to get in. On the way, we were greeted with vendors selling all kinds of Papal souvenirs: Pope Benedict
bobble heads, hats, bishop miters with the crossed NY of the Yankees (I should have bought one of those), pictures of the
Pope, books, etc.
The very polite crowd waited patiently, being entertained at one point by a Franciscan Brother
leading us in song and cheers. Across from where we stood, the impressive new Yankee Stadium looked awesome with its
façade nearly completed. There was a Popemobile parked right near us (a backup vehicle, we later learned).
We slowly made our way to the security guards, and a policeman, spotting our Franciscan habits, let us go to a section with
no lines. See, it pays to dress up. Eventually, we got to the entrance, where stadium employees took our tickets.
I remarked to one that I had really come to see A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees). He said “Yeah, he’ll
be right up there with the Pope.”
Our seats were tremendous- if the Yankees were playing. We were right
at the edge of the field, in the field boxes. But our view of the altar was obscured, because of the way the staging
was constructed. We sat right by the left field foul pole. There were giant video screens all over the place, so we
could still get a pretty clear view of what was going on.
The Mass was preceded by a two hour concert featuring
Jose Feliciano, Ronan Tynan, Stephanie Mills, Harry Connick Jr, and some choirs, such as the Harlem Gospel Choir and the West
Point Cadet Choir. As the concert ended, there were several processions- the concelebrating priests, the bishops from
all over the U.S., and then the Cardinals. There was also a great display of kite-like white doves of many sizes, hundreds
of them on poles and cables carried by young people. The field seemed flooded by these doves, signs of the Holy Spirit
and peace, as they made their way around the field. Suddenly, flocks of real doves were released from the altar staging
area, and they immediately grouped together and several flocks flew around the stadium in an almost military like formation,
until they departed above the stadium. It was a beautiful moment anticipating an even greater moment- the arrival of
the Holy Father.
Finally, the music heralded the entrance of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, in the Popemobile.
He entered from the bullpen, turned right, and came along the wall of the stands, right next to us. Some of our group
could have touched him if he wasn’t enclosed in glass. I was so intent on getting a good picture that I
didn’t even get to see him as he passed- and didn’t get a good photo due to waving hands and jumping spectators.
The stadium, as you can imagine, erupted with cheers, screams, and chants of “Benedicto.” People were screaming
“We love you, Benedict.” The warmth of the Holy Father came through. He was beaming with joy as he
waved to the crowds. Even the priests on the altar were excited. One humorous moment came when the cameras panned
the crowd for individual reactions. At one point, they focused on a priest on the stage, clad in full Mass vestments,
talking on his cell phone, obviously sharing his joy with a listener on the other end.
When the Holy Father reached
the stage that held the altar, he left the Popemobile and ascended to the altar to begin the Mass. The Mass was being
celebrated as the Bicentennial Mass for the establishment of the dioceses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Louisville, and
the elevation of the Diocese of Baltimore to an archdiocese. As Cardinal Egan welcomed the Holy Father, he called out
the names of each archdiocese and a cheer went up in their respective parts of the stadium. It seemed the whole bottom
level (field boxes) were occupied by the New York Archdiocese. The Boston Archdiocese was in the top tier.
For a minute I thought Cardinal Egan was going to make a comment about all the Boston Red Sox fans celebrating here at Yankee
Stadium. Other archdioceses and dioceses were also in particular sections. All of us were joined in worshipping
God and celebrating this great moment in the life of the Catholic Church.
The readings for the Mass were read
in Spanish and English. In his homily, the Holy Father recalled the two hundred year history since the founding of the
celebrating archdioceses, their welcoming of immigrants of all kinds, and of the freedoms of our nation to allow them, not
only to practice their faith, but to participate actively in the political process of our nation. But in speaking of
our freedoms, he also cautioned about its true meaning- not to give license to people to do anything they want, but to fulfill
our destiny as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” To be true Christians and Catholics
means our faith must permeate every aspect of our lives, even the political, and he reminded us that, in a society that values
the separation of church and state, no aspect of our lives, even the political, can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.
We are called to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel. A particular cheer went
up from the congregation as the Holy Father mentioned, in particular, the church’s stand on life, and the position we
have taken as Catholics in opposition to laws permitting abortion. He also spoke of the care and protection of the weakest
in our society, especially children.
After the Homily, the Creed was sung in the traditional Gregorian Chant
Number 3- one familiar to many priests, religious, and seminarians who sang this for years before the Vatican Council changes,
and even some of the laypeople who sat near me. I hadn’t heard it in some time, and was surprised about
how easily I remembered all of it. For those of you who don’t know, I studied Sacred Music for many years at Manhattanville
College and Boston University.
The Prayer of the Faithful was done in Italian, Polish, French, Tagalog (Filipino),
Croatian, and Igbo (West African). All of the languages done in the Prayer of the Faithful at St. Patrick’s and
at Yankee Stadium represent languages spoken in the Archdiocese, and although some of them are unfamiliar, it was nice to
see Italian included, due to the great contribution of Italian immigrants to our country and archdiocese.
At the preparation of gifts, another one of my classical favorites, “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” by Johannes
Brahms was sung by the choir.
The distribution of communion went extremely well, and you could tell it was
well organized. I was given the opportunity to distribute communion several months ago, but declined due to the time
commitment it involved, but it seemed there were plenty of priests and deacons to do this, over five hundred, it was reported.
During communion, Marcello Giordani, a tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, sang Cesar Franck’s “Panis
Angelicus.” The reverence of the congregation in the stadium was awesome.
The Mass ended with
the thunderous rendition of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and appropriately followed by the Papal Choir
singing the choral section of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the same melody. I am sure His Holiness was very
pleased with the musical choices, given that he himself is a musician, and, from my understanding, they follow along his own
tastes. I have always been partial to German church music, especially in organ repertoire, over the more melodic Italian
or syrupy French music (I think you can tell my tastes). There was a great strength in the music chosen, which spoke
to me of the great power of God and the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
The Mass ended with the Holy Father greeting
many of the dignitaries present, including the mayor of New York and the governor, as well as the bishops and priests, and
then he boarded the Popemobile for his ride out of the stadium. Again, the stadium erupted in loud applause and chants,
with Benedict waving and smiling to the crowd.
When he left the stadium, many of the people headed to the
gates, but we were told that no one would be permitted to leave until the Pope had departed, for security reasons. With
helicopters buzzing all around the stadium, and security people on full alert, we waited in the aisles. We headed back
to the D train, descended down into the subway, and rode back down to the parish. The train was packed with many happy
participants who chatted loudly about their experience of seeing Pope Benedict.
After these two glorious days
with our Holy Father, we arrived home exhausted, soaked with sweat, with tired bodies, and aching feet, but with our minds
and hearts racing at the excitement of the events we had just witnessed.
on the Papal Visit
There was definitely a different flavor to this visit than previous
ones by Pope John Paul II. While John Paul came to the United States with almost the hype of a rock star, there was
a great reverence to our current Holy Father, not as a papal celebrity, but as a loving, pastoral father who had come to visit
his children. This in no way is meant to lessen anything John Paul did. They are two different people who approach
their ministry as Vicar of Christ in two different ways. John Paul was very outgoing, plunging into the crowds, relishing
the interaction with the faithful. Benedict is more cerebral, and his spirituality shines through everything that he
I have to say on first thought that I was both
surprised and elated by the visit of the Holy Father. Surprised in that it gave me a different glimpse of this very
complex man, and elated that his visit was truly one of the highlights of my life, and, I am sure, the lives of many who encountered
him. After all, Pope Benedict, as Josef Ratzinger, was one of the liberal theologians of the Vatican Council II.
I remember studying his works, reverencing his thoughts as a young seminarian in Boston. Josef Ratzinger, along with
Karl Rahner, and Hans Kung, were among the intellectual giants of that era. Then he became Cardinal Ratzinger, the conservative
head of the Holy Office. He took on a different role, and, in turn, seemed to be the antithesis of the Josef Ratzinger
we saw a the Council. As Benedict, he has added another aspect to his complex personality- that of a loving father,
a true pastor, someone who loves the church with all his heart and, in turn, protects his flock.
I think that Benedict did everything right: from the places he chose
to visit, to the people he spoke to, to the quiet yet very loud gestures that will always be in my mind. And although
I will always hold dear the two Masses that I attended, I think I am most impressed by two other things: his meeting with
the victims of priest abuse and his visit to Ground Zero. Although I do not think that his meeting and ministry to those
victimized by priests will in any way quench the scandal or put this behind us, I think it is a monumental step toward healing.
Even listening to some of the people involved who were doing interviews for the media, there were many tears and much peace,
after years of turmoil. And I think the fact that Benedict addressed the issue so powerfully and yet so lovingly, to
his bishops, priests, and to the faithful, demonstrated the church’s outlook that this is truly a serious matter and
something that has literally destroyed lives.
to Ground Zero and speaking to those who had lost loved ones or been injured went to the heart of our city and nation.
His beautiful prayer, which I had reprinted in our church bulletin, speaks to our fears and hopes, and acknowledges the contributions
of so many people in the healing that will go on forever.
visit to the synagogue here in the city, on the eve of Passover, was also a great gesture. I am sure he was sensitive
to his own background and history, and yet he embraced the members of that congregation and, in effect, all of Judaism, as
a loving brother.
Perhaps there is a contrast that is
drawn with Benedict and the older John Paul, not the wonderfully active, younger John Paul at the beginning of his pontificate,
whose personality and faith were electric, but the one we seem to also remember most, the ailing, aged John Paul of his last
days. Benedict, even at 81, was vibrant and alive, in a different way, in a fatherly way.
Benedict’s theme was hope. I think he spread that hope, not only
by his words and actions, but by just being here with us. Everyone wanted to see him, to touch him, to speak to him,
not because of his personality, but because of who he is and who he represents. And he gave all of us a lot of hope
for a renewal and rebirth of our faith, and our church, which has been beaten and bruised for some time.
I thought of the coordination this must have meant on the part of our own archdiocese
and city. I remember thinking at Yankee Stadium that this could only happen in New York. There is a certain class
to things here, and that in no other city in our country could such an array of talent come together to make this happen.
Sure there are other cities which have hosted popes and other dignitaries, but I doubt anyone comes close to what we witnessed
here in New York.
I would think that Cardinal Egan must
be very proud of his archdiocese, and rightly so. Everything seemed perfect, from the minute Pope Benedict stepped foot
in our city, to the minute he left. We knew there would be crowds, and security, and delays, and a great deal of discomfort.
And yet, we knew this and expected this- part of living in a crowded city with many other people coming to visit. At
each venue, people were smiling and helpful, and supremely pleasant. I think the city of New York and the archdiocese
of New York has a lot to be proud of- and a lot to reflect on. I have been told by others of the vast preparations
for this event- the coordination of the New York City Police, FBI, the archdiocese, and others called to watch for Pope Benedict’s
safety. I was told by a police officer from precinct one (our precinct here at St. Anthony’s, also covering Ground
Zero), that the pope is the number one target for assassination in the world, and that his security detail is larger than
even for the president. It is mind boggling to think of everything that came into play to make this trip such a success.
And a great success it really was!
You know that I could
go on and on about this. But I will conclude in saying that Pope Benedict’s visit to our nation and city was truly
and moment of inspiration and faith for me. And I believe he accomplished much more than any of us had thought possible-
conveying the hope , peace, and love of Jesus Christ to the world.