It's All Saints Eve in Rome - while the real date is about 10 days away, there is a real excitement in the air for pilgrims who've traveled around the world for a special Mass Sunday.
Seven new saints will be proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of the Sunday celebration. We can expect a gathering of the United Nations as this is truly a global event.
Canadians, numbering about 1,500 will be meeting at 7:00 a.m. to secure space for the 9:30 a.m. Mass with the hopes of trying to find a section where they can be close to one another. From one who has experienced Rome crowds in the past, I'd say this might be wishful thinking. Another thing I've learned from past Rome celebrations, namely the consistory in February 2012 - you may have a ticket, that doesn't mean you have a seat. With sunny skies forecast for Sunday, life's a little easier as there's plenty of space in the square but you can be there will be plenty of Catholic jostling for good seats.
For most pilgrims, Saturday was a free day for sightseeing and exploring Rome and its surroundings. In speaking with many of the First Nations pilgrims at the airport before our flight across the Atlantic, they expressed their excitement in traveling to Rome for the first time and getting the chance to explore everything. I confided that having been to Rome about a dozen times, I felt like I was still getting to know the place - so much rich history, architecture, stories of our faith and of course, gelato vendors, to fully appreciate.
Emanuel and I had a chance to meet with Cardinal Collins who arrived early Friday morning. We took the opportunity to record a few messages from a rooftop overlooking St. Peter's Square including a message to be shared with pilgrims making their way to the celebrations at Martyrs' Shrine on Sunday. We also met with some wonderful folks at Vatican Radio who helped assist with an online connection that will be used on Tuesday to have the Cardinal SKYPE with students at Blessed Kateri schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the York Catholic District School Board. It will be a nice opportunity for the kids to ask questions about Blessed Kateri, how a saint becomes a saint and to generally share some time together.
When you are in Rome, you also get used to doing a lot of walking. Probably at least 10 km today and with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures, there's certainly no complaining. We made the one hour or so trek to St. John Lateran, an impressive church which serves as the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome. Saturday evening was the "appetizer" so to speak in preparing for the Sunday celebrations with a screening of the Salt + Light Catholic Television documentary, "In Her Footsteps", the story of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. The close to one hour production was screened for the more than 1,000 pilgrims in attendance, including a Canadian federal government delegation, more than a dozen Canadian bishops and hundreds from the aboriginal community, many in native dress.
If you don't know much about Kateri's life, the documentary provides a wonderful background as well as extensive interviews with the Finkbonner family, whose son Jake's recovery from flesh eating disease, has officially been attributed as the second miracle required for Blessed Kateri's canonization. Even more powerful was the fact that the Finkbonner family was in attendance for the screening and the teenager was mobbed once the evening wrapped up. (Jake is pictured below in blue shirt). Quite the journey from Washington state for this young boy. His story alone is worth viewing the doc. The standing ovation following the film suggested that Salt + Light did an outstanding job in bringing to life a woman who lived more than 300 years ago.
Following the screening, former Quebec City Archbishop Marc Cardinal Ouellet led evening prayer for those gathered and spoke eloquently of Kateri's life. The prayer service was preceded by a sweetgrass purification ceremony, honouring the aboriginal tradition symbolic of purifying past ourselves of past wrongs and opening our minds and spirit to listen to the Word of God.
A wonderful way to prepare for the canonization, the evening was organized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops - the chance to pray and celebrate together at St. John Lateran was a very special experience. There will be a Mass of Thanksgiving in the same location Monday morning.
Word on the street suggests that the filipino pilgrims were also in full "All Saints Eve" mode with their own gathering to prepare for the canonization of martyr and lay missionary, Pedro Calungsod. Sunday has already been declared a national day of celebration in the Philippines by the President.
Should be quite the day for the global church and for fans of the seven blessed. All Saints Day is coming a little early to Rome this year - yet the inspiration of these newest holy men and women will live on for years to come...