Posted August 04, 2011 in New Millennium:
Journey to Rome

by Fr. David May.

It was nearly noon and time for the Sunday Angelus to be led by the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square.

We walked as quickly as we could from the North American College, only ten minutes away, and arrived just in time to hear the cheers of the crowd as Pope Benedict XVI appeared in the window of his apartment to begin his reflections on the Samaritan woman.

Mark Schlingerman, Susanne Stubbs and I had traveled the day before from England, where we had spent a few days at our house in North Yorkshire.

Now we were praying together with the crowd and receiving the Pope’s blessing. Thus began our first full day in Rome.

Our seminarian, Michael Weitl, had greeted us at the airport and helped us find a taxi to the North American College, where he studies and where we were to stay during our sojourn.

The welcome there by Msgr. James Checchio, the rector, and others of the staff was extremely warm and hospitable. They provided us with most adequate accommodations, so that we truly had a home away from home while in Rome.

During our ten-day visit, we had the opportunity to meet many of Michael’s fellow seminarians, to talk about Madonna House with them, and to hear a little something about their own backgrounds and spiritual journeys.

The principal purpose of this trip was to reestablish the connection between Madonna House and the appropriate officials in the Vatican.

At the encouragement of our bishop, Michael Mulhall, we, with the help of our friend, Fr. Frank Morrisey, OMI, a canon lawyer, put a lot of work into investigating the possibility of Madonna House priests being incardinated into our community itself.

Such a step would definitely represent a change in status for our priests.

Since priestly societies are generally understood in the Church as "set apart" with their own communal life, it was a challenge to try and fit our current way of life into that paradigm.

Our vocation calls us to form a spiritual family composed of laymen, women, and priests. Within that one family, MH priests are also called by our foundress to form their own community of love, with a distinct priestly identity.

But would this satisfy the Church’s current understanding of what a priestly society of apostolic life can be?

After much work, consultation, and prayer, it was time to consult the appropriate people in Rome with grace of state for communities like ours.

More broadly, we simply wanted to touch base again with the Vatican. The last time an MH director-general had done so was more than twenty years ago.

Our bishop had hoped to accompany us for a couple of these meetings, but a tragedy in our diocese prevented his being able to do so.

Fr. George Olsen, the pastor of a church only a half hour drive from Madonna House, died in a house fire, and our bishop needed to remain available to the needs of the parish and others in the diocese who knew and loved Fr. George.

We ourselves learned of this tragedy only moments before our departure, so as we traveled, we carried everyone involved in prayer.

Our two principal scheduled meetings were with the Pontifical Council for the Laity and with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

At the former, the president, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, greeted us warmly and was pleased to learn of the work of our community, of its origins on Canadian soil, and that our foundress was of Russian origin.

We were able to speak with him for a time about our Constitution and proposed statutes, and then to continue the conversation with his assistants, Msgr. Miguel Delgado Galindo and Grazia Villani.

It is The Pontifical Council for the Laity which grants "international status of pontifical right" to various associations of the faithful in the Church. While the groups to which this applies vary in their makeup and apostolate, the common element is an international presence and the seal of approval from Rome.

Madonna House has for some time been aware of the possibility of being given this status, and we continue to pray, in consultation with our bishop, about its appropriateness for us.

In any event, it was certainly good to renew personal acquaintance with the Council for the Laity, and we hope to cultivate that relationship in the future.

Our second meeting took place the next day, and we had a very cordial encounter with Msgr. Leonelli Leidi and Fr. Henry Lemoncelli, OMI, an American from Buffalo, New York, who served as translator.

This Congregation is the one that deals with Societies of Apostolic Life and the question of incardination. Diocesan priests are "incardinated," that is, belong to a diocese under direct obedience to a bishop; priests belonging to societies or religious congregations are incardinated right into their community and owe obedience to their superior.

MH priests live like the latter but are incardinated like the former, hence our question about a possible change in status.

After a very lively conversation, it seemed that MH priests might not quite "fit" the current categories of canon law that this Congregation works under. So, it is a story to be continued!

Our time in Rome also provided us with some opportunities for pilgrimage and graced encounters of various kinds. On Friday, April 1, Michael Weitl had arranged for us to celebrate Mass together early in the morning in the Clementine chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica.

This chapel is located in the crypt, adjacent to the tomb of St. Peter itself. Joanne Dionne, the director of our house in Belgium, was able to join us for this and for the day (thanks to the cheapness of flights on Ryan Air!), along with her friend from the Emmanuel Community, Carine Dequenne, who works in Rome.

What a joy it was to pray the liturgy together in that holy place!

Despite the movements of various groups making their way to other chapels in the crypt, or even the singing and praying aloud nearby, it was as if we were enveloped in a great silence and peace of God and of his holy Church and its many witnesses through the centuries.

We prayed for all of you, our friends from around the world, as well as for Madonna House, our family members, and the whole world.

Other friends we met in Rome included our beloved associate bishop, Noel Delaquis, who is studying Benedictine spirituality. (Bishop Noel is now a Trappist), Fr. Denis Heames, and Rodrigo Ubaldo, a seminarian from Brazil who was very close since his youth to our former house there.

On another early morning venture, we traveled with some seminarians to celebrate Mass at the church of St. Susanna the martyr, patroness of our own Susanne Stubbs.

Each day in Lent, a different "station" church is designated for pilgrims to travel to for Mass, and that particular day was the day for St. Susanna, the American parish in Rome.

A few days later we were back in Canada, just in time for Holy Week, Easter, and, nine days after that, the annual meetings of the directors of our houses.

If there was a personal moment of grace I would highlight, it would be when I had the opportunity to pray before the tomb of Pope John Paul II, now Blessed.

I’m still not sure what came over me, but when I was there, I suddenly found myself kneeling and weeping. Was it from grief at the death of such a great leader of the Church? Was it from sheer gratitude for what this man both was and is for God’s people?

Such a saint, such a life reveal what it means to say that Christ is truly risen and lives among us. In an instant I saw afresh the essence of all discipleship: to be overwhelmed by love of Jesus Christ, and to bear witness to this in every aspect of life.

To deepen and to safeguard this reality was the main purpose of our voyage and its principal prayer, and we thank God for the graces He gave not only to us, but to all of Madonna House.


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