A year ago yesterday, Sunday, was November 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King and the end of the Year of Faith. That occasion was a very special moment in my life for a number of reasons but most especially because I received the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” – the Joy of Faith” – from the hands of the author, Pope Francis!
Over the years I have met and spoken to a number of Popes but for me, just being in the presence of a Pope, the Successor of Peter, our Holy Father, fills me with a great sense of awe. In 1961 I attended an audience with Pope John XXIII and in the years since I have met and spoken to Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on a previous occasion when he met the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums on October 19, 2013.
Receiving the Exhortation personally from the Pope was naturally an immensely personal moment and highlight for each of us, the 36 faithful, lay and religious, to whom the Holy Father gave his work.
A year ago was also unique for another reason. As I wrote then:
“Sunday, November 24, 2013, Feast of Christ the King and final day of the Year of Faith, the Vatican, in a momentous, historical, first-time-in-two-millennia occasion, offered the world a glimpse of relics – bone fragments – of St. Peter! Had nothing else happened yeterday morning, just being in the presence of these relics would have been worth the hours spent in St. Peter’s Square under gray, threatening skies and very cold temperatures. We had had a week of rain, so no rain was one of the big blessings of the morning.”
NOTE: Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 25, Pope Francis travels to the French city of Strasbourg where he is scheduled to address the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. He returns to Rome tomorrow afternoon. The last Pope to visit was St. John Paul II on October 8, 1988.
THREE DAYS AT THE VATICAN: POPE FRANCIS’ AGENDA AT A GLANCE
SATURDAY: Over the weekend, I posted several stories on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) about Pope Francis’ meeting Saturday in the Paul VI Hall with 7,000 participants in the 29th International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Workers. The conference was dedicated to autism and included persons affected by this disorder and their families. By all accounts of those present, it was an amazing meeting, especially for the parents of autistic children or relatives of adults living with autism. I was delighte by the responses to those postings.
I had a nephew who was diagnosed with an “autism-like” disability and was thus moved by this conference theme and by the Pope’s reaction to and embrace of – literally and figuratively – of autistic children. Christopher, my nephew, died November 30, 2001, of double pneumonia at the age of 20. He was a twin. His sister Andrea had no health problems and today is married with two little girls.
Pope Francis Saturday thanked the organizers of the conference for having chosen such a complex theme, “which appeals directly to the responsibility of governments and institutions, without forgetting, of course, Christian communities.” He also emphasized the need for common efforts to promote “acceptance, encounter and solidarity … to break through the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma that burdens people affected by autism spectrum disorders, and frequently also their families.”
The Holy Father “encouraged scholars and researchers in the arduous task of discovering therapies and support mechanisms in the treatment and above all the prevention of these disorders.” He concluded, “All this is to be done with the necessary attention to the rights of those affected, considering their needs and their potential, and always safeguarding the dignity of every person.”
Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis had an 80-minute private, previously unannounced meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano that papal spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, defined as “very cordial.”
SUNDAY, the feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis canonized four Italians – Amato Ronconi, Giovanni Antonio Farina, Nicola da Longobardi, and Ludovico da Casoria – and a priest and a nun from Kerala, India – Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Eufrasia Eluvathingal – during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. About 5,000 pilgrims came from India to witness the canonization of the nation’s second and third saints and, according to the blog of one priest accompanying some pilgrims, many of whom arrived at St. Peter’s Square at 5 a.m, even though Vatican did not open security check until 8 a.m.
He said, “The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom. The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity. In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters.
“Today,” said Francis, “the Church places before us the example of these new saints. Each in his or her own way served the kingdom of God, of which they became heirs, precisely through works of generous devotion to God and their brothers and sisters. They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour. They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims. Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God. In fact, they sought and discovered love in a strong and personal relationship with God, from whence springs forth true love for one’s neighbour. In the hour of judgement, therefore, they heard that tender invitation: ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’.”
MONDAY: At 9 this morning, the Holy Father met in St. Petetr’s Basilica with a group of faithful of the Syro-Malabar rite who had come to Rome for the canonization on Sunday of Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family, and Euphrasia Eluvathingal of the Sacred Heart. He thanked the Church in India, and specifically in Kerala, for “all its apostolic strength and for the witness of faith you have. Continue in this way! Kerala is a land that is very fertile in religious and priestly vocations. Carry on working in this way, with your witness.”
The Pope noted that !Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim ‘sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others’. For her part, Sister Euphrasia lived in profound union with God so much so that her life of holiness was an example and an encouragement to the people, who called her ‘Praying Mother’.”
At 9:30 Monday morning, Pope Francis presided at a three-hour meeting of the ranking officials of the Roman Curia, including the prefects of the 9 congregations and presidents of the 12 pontifical councils to further discuss proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.
The director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, reminded journalists that these meetings are routinely held about every six months or so. He said that the secretary of the so-called “C9” Council of Cardinals examining the issue of reform, Bishop Marcello Semeraro gave a brief presentation of the subjects under consideration. Those present were then given time to contribute their opinions which will be taken into account in future meetings of the C9. The next scheduled meeting is December 9-11. Two officials could not be present, Cardinals Antonio Vegliò and Zenon Grocholewski.
Though no statement was made on the appointment today by the Pope of Cardinal Robert Sarah as the new prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, it is believed that the council he led up to today, “Cor Unum” will possibly be merged with another pontifical council (most likely Justice and Peace) as part of the curia reform.
Monday afternoon Pope Francis had two appointments: an audience with Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, president of the Arab Republic of Egypt and entourage and, at 3 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica, he gave the final commendation and farewell at the end of the funeral of Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini who died Saturday at the age of 98. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College og Cardinals, presided the funeral Mass. Cardinal Angelini was born in Rome in 1916 – the last native of the city to be made a cardinal – and served the Church under seven different Popes.