Hard to believe that it's been almost 8 days since we arrived in Rome to begin the countdown to the elevation of 22 shepherds to the College of Cardinals.
Monday was Family Day back home in Ontario - hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend and some quality time with loved ones. You might say the same about our final day in Rome. The family of pilgrims that has come together for these blessed days came together one final time for a day that capped off a memorable week of memories and blessings.
We started the day off with Mass at 7:15 a.m. at the Tomb of St. Peter. The rock on whom the church was built, those in leadership have a special fondness for St. Peter ever mindful that they are the successors of the apostles in their role as bishops throughout the world. For a cardinal, it's even more significant in that they, one day, will also have the hefty responsibility of selecting the next Pontiff.
While the chapel beneath the main altar at St. Peter's is ideally designed for about 100 people, we still managed to squeeze close to double that around the altar. We started the pilgrimage last Wednesday morning with Mass at the Teutonic College surrounded by graves and perhaps it was fitting that we ended up beside the tombs of the Popes and leaders of the church who have gone before us. It's a potent reminder that we are all given just a brief time in this world to do what we can with our gifts and talents. We walk away from the pilgrimage reflecting on how we can transform the words of the gospel into tangible care and support for one another...
22 men were chosen by the Holy Father for their own example of dedication to their faith and willingness to share it with the world. Their scarlet robes remind them that those who have come before them have even shed their blood for it.
As Cardinal Collins mentioned numerous times throughout the week, whether in speeches, homilies or media interviews, we can't take our faith for granted. Hundreds of thousands around the world have been persecuted, tortured and killed for proclaiming their faith - the least we can do is practice ours day in and out. As we move into this Lenten season, we have an opportunity this Ash Wednesday to bear witness to the sign of our faith through the ashes that are given to us on the first day of Lent.
Before wrapping up the morning, we had the chance to participate in the Monday Private Audience with the Holy Father that's a tradition following the consistory weekend. While it's termed private, there were still about 4,000 people in attendance - no tickets required - generally, it's a gathering of the delegations of the new cardinals - one last chance to affirm them, support them and, of course to see Pope Benedict.
Each of the Class of 2012 was given two tickets to bring up the people of their choosing to meet the Holy Father. Cardinal Collins selected his sisters, Patricia and Catharine. For the Cardinal, it was the fourth time this week he met briefly with the Holy Father face to face. It was a jovial atmosphere in the Paul VI Audience Hall with flags waving and groups cheering the video replay of their favorite cardinal being displayed on the "Catholictron" video screen.
Following the audience, which only lasted about 40 minutes, we had the cardinal conduct his final media interviews this week, guesting on Canada AM and speaking to Global TV, City and Rogers radio stations throughout Ontario and Alberta as well as a quick sit down with Vatican Radio.
This evening, the delegation enjoyed a wonderful final meal, a fitting way to thank and express our prayerful support for His Eminence. There were kind words from a number of speakers including Bishop Anthony Tonnos (retired Bishop of Hamilton), the bishop who ordained Father Collins as Bishop, sharing thoughts about being moved to tears when hearing of the elevation of then Archbishop Collins to the College of Cardinals.
All in all a beautiful end to a week that was full of emotion, laughter, fellowship and faith.
We often feel frustrated if the secular media doesn't cover the "good news" of the church. Well at last count there were well over 1500 articles this week that, almost in their entirety, celebrated the elevation of Canada's newest cardinal. They showed him waving as he Skyped Grade 3 students and his former high school, they laughed with him as he donned a Leafs jersey in St. Peter's Square and they followed closely the rich historical ceremonies at the Vatican, speaking with the new cardinal, pilgrims and others about the experience.
In short, they helped tell the story and that's exactly what we mean when we say we need to evangelize to both the gathered and the scattered. Who knows how these stories will impact our community down the road?
Now to us, those of us on pilgrimage. We have our own responsibility - to not cradle this pilgrimage in our hands and hide it from others. We need to speak about the experience, how it enriched our faith, how it gave us pride in our Catholic family, reminded us of our own ups and downs on the journey, of how we all have a responsibility to be shepherds in our own little way.
So Happy Family Day - this year's holiday was a little different for us. We were part of an adopted family of pilgrims who won't soon forget how it's not about the destination but, rather, the journey. It's always a good reminder - a pilgrimage can be extremely challenging yet very rewarding. Braving large crowds, elbows and obstructed views or no views at all; little sleep, ceremonies in a foreign language and rain pouring down at times.
Would we do it all again? In a second.
So thank you to Pope Benedict XVI, our spiritual father, Cardinal Collins our local guardian and all the "siblings" and "cousins" that supported one another over this past week. It was exhilarating, frustrating, joyful, challenging and everything in between. Would we do it all again? In a second.
If you feel that life needs the jumper cables to provide a spiritual reboot, a pilgrimage isn't a bad place to start. We had just such an experience this week. After all we've witnessed in Rome, the car won't need a tune up for a while...
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