May 8, 2015
Arriving safely I took a taxi immediately to the Vatican where I am staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae. When I was making these plans months ago I asked my friend, Msgr. John Cihak (one of our Portland priests who works at the Vatican), if it was possible to stay there. He gave me the contact info thinking it was worth a shot. Frankly, I’m amazed it worked out.
One of the first things I did was to go to a nearby shop where they sell clerical attire (I needed a few things and didn’t know if they’d be open on Saturday). Then I made my first stop at St. Peter’s Basilica. I checked in immediately at the sacristy to reserve a time to celebrate Mass the next morning. I asked the sacristan if it was possible to offer Mass at the altar over the remains of Pope St. John XXIII, my patron saint. He said: “Buon fortuna!” Apparently, it is usually reserved for cardinals, but there was no one scheduled for that Saturday, so it was my good fortune that it was available. This meant a lot to me since my parents named me John in honor of this pope, since he had been elected just months before I was born.
My next stop was venerate the statue of St. Peter by kissing his foot. This has always meant a lot to me in terms of my call to be faithful to Jesus by serving the Church that was built on the Rock, Peter’s confession of faith (Matthew 16:15-19). After that noticed that there were priests available hearing confessions, so I went to confession. There was a young American woman who was also trying to find an English speaking priest. She looked both nervous and excited and said, regarding her own desire to go to confession at St. Peter’s: “My grandmother would be so proud of me.” When it was my turn, the priest was very affirming and I left with a renewed sense of joy of God’s mercy in my life. I went immediately to the altar of Pope St. John XXIII and prayed my penance. It continues to amaze me that, here I am, half way around the world, and I am home. This is our church. Every Catholic church is our home.
By then it was close to suppertime. I went back to the Domus to shower after the long trip, pray Evening Prayer, and eat in the dining room. There are a number of Vatican employees who live at the Domus and take their meals there. Sergio Militello, the organist for Papal Liturgies, joined me at my table. He spoke a little English, and with the few words I know of Spanish and Italian we enjoyed our time discussing music, liturgy, the pilgrimage, and what its like to work at the Basilica. He was hired shortly after Pope Francis was elected. When I mentioned that our pilgrimage would be visiting Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and where I had studied for a year (1979-80), he lit up and told me that he had played a concert at Der Dom and that it was on YouTube.
After supper I prayed the rosary while strolling on the Piazza San Pietro thanking God for all his blessings.