By Ken Downey | Correspondent
Walking out of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, talking with his fellow priests, Father Brian Woodrow stood in admiration of his young altar servers who were standing in a group sharing a laugh.
“They were all gathered together, getting along on the rock where Christ founded the Church,” recalled Father Woodrow, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown. “Looking at them, I got the overwhelming sense that they knew they were home. This is as close to home that they could ever be.
“They knew that this was theirs, this belonged to them – not because of me, not because of the trip, but because Jesus Christ said, ‘Upon this rock, I built my Church.’”
From June 25 to July 1, altar servers from St. John the Baptist Parish and their friends and family had the opportunity to travel to Rome thanks to funding from an anonymous donor. The trip included about 35 people, and came about as a way to acknowledge the boys for their service to their parish.
“We are very blessed here at St. John’s. Some of our altar servers have exceeded above and beyond. They have not only worked so hard to bring everything they have to the altar, but to live it, to study it, to dream it,” Father Woodrow said, adding that he thought it important the young men visit “where the Catholic faith and the Church has been built.”
While in Rome, the boys and their families toured the Vatican and visited the many churches in the Eternal City. Parishioners John Teague, 17, and Michael Conway, 25, who are both master of ceremonies, had the privilege to serve a Pontifical Low Mass with Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, American cardinal prelate and patron to the Knights of Malta.
“It was interesting, and we got to do things that we wouldn’t normally do around here,” Teague said. “I was the head candle bearer, and Michael was one of the acolytes. It was very cool to be able to serve with a cardinal.”
Father Woodrow spoke very highly of his servers following the trip. “They got to meet all of their favorite cardinals, which is another thing that speaks volumes about these kids. Where other kids are idolizing anything from rock stars to comic book heroes, these kids are idolizing and reading about cardinals and current events in Rome. They know so much, it forces me as a priest to sit back and say, ‘Hey, I better keep up with all of this stuff.’ It’s so encouraging.”
Father Michael Wallack, priest secretary to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., also accompanied the St. John’s contingent to Rome.
“To see all of the kids all fired up and having them all pray at different places was great,” Father Wallack said. “A couple of years ago, I was given a tour through Rome, and to see someone else go through their first time there was great.”
Father Wallack had a prediction for the future of most of the boys after returning from their enlightening experience.
“I suspect there will be a lot of vocations out of this parish,” he said, praising Father Woodrow.
“He trains the master of ceremonies, then they train themselves, and given that responsibility, it gets them to want to learn more. And some of the guys are tearing up the liturgy and wanting to learn everything they can,” Father Wallack said.
Father Woodrow thinks the future will be very bright for all the boys who went on the trip, no matter their path in life.
“Regardless of what God has in store for any of them, they are going to be better fathers or better Father’s [priests],” Father Woodrow said. “Whatever it may be, they are going to be better at it because of the exposure to Rome, because it has watered the seeds of faith in them.”