APRIL 7, 2016 -- WHILE PILGRIMS HEAD FOR LUCA, PISA AND SIENA, IT'S BACK TO ROME FOR BISHOP AND FATHER JASON -- On April 7, the bus left our hotel in Montecatini for Luca and Pisa. Everybody was in great spirits as our pilgrimage continued. All on board, except for Father Jason and me since we had to return to Rome. Our tour guide, Elena from Unitours, has been marvelous.
The trip to Rome was very pleasant. We took the "bullet train" from Florence which shortened a four hour trip to ninety minutes. After arriving at the "Termini" in Rome, we cabbed it to The Pontifical North American College (PNAC), the US Seminary in Rome, on the Gianincolum Hill. Fathers Michael McClane, Jason Parzynski and Daniel Kirk and Msgr. Joseph Rosie studied here at various Roman universities. More recently, Father PJ Alindogan enjoyed a sabbatical here.
This massive structure boasts the second highest vantage point to view all of Rome, including a spectacular glimpse of St. Peter's Basilica.
After lunch with PNAC's 250+ seminarians from all,over the US and watching a bit of soccer, Father Jason took me on a tour of his former seminary home. We climbed the newest "tower" section to look at the panorama of the Eternal City below. Breathtaking!
Later that evening, we attended the 24th annual "Rector's Dinner," a fundraiser for PNAC. I was delighted to meet up with so many old friends from my Catholic U days and a number of Cardinals and Bishops who were there. The US Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Vigano was honored by the PNAC Board along with a businessman and his wife from California. 400 guests attended the dinner where the seminarians served the meal and provided musical entertainment. It was a lovely affair.
After a nightcap, I hit the bed. For some reason I am sleeping much better on this trip than at home.
I awoke early and Father Jason and I had breakfast with an old friend, Cardinal McCarrick. We had some good laughs! Then, after some prayers, we made our way to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy near St. Peter's a Basilica where I had some business to conduct. I was happy to renew my acquaintance with the prefect, Cardinal Benjamin Stella and some of his staff. My meeting there was very productive.
We then walked across the square to the Holy Office where Cardinal Franc Rode, C.M., former prefect of the Congregation for Religious and a brother Vincentian and old friend, hosted us for pranzo (lunch) along with his secretary Father Matej who worked at St. James Parish in Red Bank one summer a few years back. We had a great time recalling good memories of the Cardinal's visit to the US, our last visit here, and our Vincentian roots. For pranzo we had antipasti; delicious saffron rice with chicken; rabbit and sausage; roasted artichokes, onion and tomatoes; a nice white wine and fresh strawberries. The Cardinal, himself a Slovenian, served a wonderful cake he brought back from a recent trip to Slovenia and a glass of Chartreuse (Wow! Powerful stuff that prepared me for a siesta!)
Father Matej drove us back to PNAC and visited there for awhile. I had several phone calls and messages to answer which took up the rest of the day. I finished writing up a little article on the Pope's apostolic exhortation published today for The Monitor, said my "good nights" and my night prayer and hit the sack. Tomorrow is another day in Rome ...the Diocesan pilgrims arrive after their trip to Siena and Assisi! I look forward to welcoming them.
TO SEE PHOTOS OF LUCA, PISA, SIENA AS WELL AS ROME, CLICK HERE.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6, 2016 -- AN INSIGHTFUL DAY IN FLORENCE -- Wednesday morning bright and early! A good breakfast and away we go to Florence. Yesterday was very pleasant in every way. After meeting up with the pilgrim group at the airport in Rome, we boarded the bus headed to Montecatini. We passed the home of St. Rita along the way. What beautiful countryside.
We arrived at the hotel Croce di Malta mid-fternoon. A lovely little spot. Some folks took a walk, others rested or just enjoyed the fresh air. We had a reception and banquet in the evening. Bedtime was welcome!
To see more photos from Florence, click here.
TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2016 -- FAITHFUL ARRIVE IN ROME FOR PILGRIMAGE -- Day one of the diocesan pilgrimage featured Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., greeting some 39 faithful who traveled to Rome April 4. Prayers of thanksgiving were offered that all safely arrived after their flight from Newark International Airport.
To see more photos of the start of the Diocesan Pilgrimage, click here.
MONDAY, APRIL 4, 2016 -- BISHOP, FATHER PARZYNSKI SPEND PRAYERFUL TIME AT THE VATICAN -- Monday morning, April 4, began with Morning Prayer and breakfast. It is a beautiful, sunny day. The Holy Father celebrated Mass in the Santa Marta chapel at 7 am. Among the concelebrants were a group of Italian priests celebrating their 50th anniversary of ordination and Bishop Paul Sanchez, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn. After some photographs, Pope Francis came into the refectory for breakfast. Security was more evident than the last time I visited here. And you don't see as much of the Holy Father around Santa Marta as on previous visits.
Father Jason and I walked across the yard to St. Peter's Basilica where we celebrated the Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation at the Altar of the Sacred Heart. It is always a thrill to be here and celebrate Mass. We returned to Santa Marta around 9 a.m. to relax a bit before heading out.
We enjoyed pranzo with a staff member of the Congregation for Divine Worship around 1 p.m. I have a request pending before that Congregation. The rest of the day was quiet. In the evening, Father Jason and I headed to Piazza Novonna and Piazza Pantheon for a little supper at Da Fortunato, my favorite restaurant in Rome, where we discussed some planning for the Diocese. I met Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, on the way out. Rome is a "small city." Earlier in the day, I greeted two friends from my seminary days on the Borgo Pio.
Tomorrow, I will welcome the pilgrims as they arrive at the airport and board our tour bus. Looking forward to seeing everyone! Stay tuned.
SATURDAY, APRIL 2, 2016 -- BISHOP O'CONNELL'S IN ROME, LOOKS FORWARD TO GREETING PILGRIMS TOMORROW -- Father Jason Parzynski and I arrived in Rome on Saturday morning, April 2, to cloudy skies. There was a great deal of turbulence on the flight from Philadelphia, more than either of us had ever encountered before. It was warm outside, although many Romans we saw on the ride in from the airport still wore coats and scarves.
The Domus Sanctae Marthae (Santa Marta) was a buzz as we entered. Heightened security was evident all around the residence of Pope Francis where we were staying and at St. Peter's Basilica close by. Public papal events were scheduled Saturday and Sunday and the colorful Swiss Guard were visible at virtually every entrance, along with Carabinieri and Roman Police.
We stopped in the Chapel of "Santa Marta" for a visit after our arrival and then made our way to our rooms. This building, one of the newest in Vatican City, was built to house the College of Cardinals during papal conclaves and other gatherings of bishops from around the world. In addition to being the "home of the Pope," Santa Marta also serves as the residence of staff working at the Vatican as well as other guests of the Holy See. It is a lovely place but very simple in design and decoration. I have enjoyed being a guest here during my last few visits to Rome.
Father Jason and I then walked across the yard to St. Peter's Basilica. We prayed at stairs leading to the tomb of St. Peter and walked around this massive Church, the spiritual center of Catholicism. One of the advantages of being a bishop here is the easy access to so many sites related to the Catholic Church. We walked (yes, walked!) to the Chiesa Nuova to visit this beautiful baroque style Church and to pray at the tomb of St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratorians. The Diocese of Trenton is preparing to establish an Oratory in St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Red Bank, NJ. Just last week, I met in Trenton with the priest responsible for recommending approval of such efforts to Holy See. I prayed for this initiative at the altar containing St. Philip Neri's body and for God's grace upon our clergy launching this initiative, especially Father Alberto Tamayo, pastor.
We next found ourselves in the Basilica di Santa Maria Soprano Minerva near the Pantheon. This Dominican Church's sacristy was the site of the famous trial of Galileo in 1633. It is a dark and musky smelling place but I always pay a visit here, recalling the many times I had celebrated Mass on the side altar over the years. The body of St. Catherine of Siena is buried here (minus her head) under the central altar as well as the body of the Dominican artist Fra' Angelico. There is a beautiful statue of St. John the Baptist by Michelangelo near the main altar. Behind the sacristy are remnants of St. Catherine of Siena's house. After some prayer, we exited into the small piazza where Bernini's famous "Obelisk of the Elephant" is center stage. This piazza also plays host to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy which trains priests for the Church's diplomatic service all over the world.
From there we made the short trek to Campo de' Fiori to visit friends residing at the Cancellaria there, home to the Offices of the Apostolic Signatura (the Church's "Supreme Court"). We had a delightful "pranzo” (lunch) with the senior prelate judge of the Roman Rota (the Church's highest tribunal), Msgr. Robert Sable, at Costanza's Hostaria located in the excavated ruins of the Teatro di Pompeo (dating back to 55 BC), near the site of the assassination of Julius Ceasar in 44 BC.
Toward the end of pranzo, jet lag was making its presence known. We headed back to Santa Marta for a little nap.
Around 6 p.m., the Holy Father headed over to St. Peter's Basilica for a vigil. Father Jason and I went out close by for a little pasta about 8:45 p.m. so that we could be back before the gates closed and the doors locked at 10 p.m. I think we were the "last in." It was a long day and the bed was calling! I can't believe I walked 4.6 miles with my prosthetic leg!
Sunday brought with it sunshine and much excitement. After praying for a good while in Santa Marta Chapel, Father Jason and I had a little breakfast around 7:30 a.m. --- I was desperate for coffee! The Secretariat of State sent over two tickets for us to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father for Divine Mercy Sunday at 10:30 a.m. outside in the piazza of St. Peter's Basilica. It was a glorious Mass, complete with beautiful sacred music provided by the Vatican's Sistine Choir. I offered the Mass for the entire Diocese. We met up with American Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Edward O'Brien beforehand and chatted a bit. Pope Francis gave a stirring homily, preaching on the mercy of God and its healing presence in our lives. "Jesus wishes us to open our closed doors," he said. Father Jason was invited to distribute Holy Communion at the papal Mass, a great honor. After Mass, we spoke to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria for a good while. I had hosted him at The Catholic University of America in Washington a few times during the years I was president there. He was selected recently to present the Holy Father's long-awaited apostolic exhortation on the past two Synods of Bishops this coming Friday, April 8. He shared with us a brief preview, indicating that he believed the document would make an important contribution to moral theology. Himself a Dominican, Cardinal Schonborn said that the Holy Father frequently quoted the great Dominican philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas throughout the text. He commented that the document entitled "Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)" is written in Pope Francis own style and will be easily read by the faithful.
I find the Roman custom of "riposo" --- a little nap after lunch --- quite a nice practice! It wouldn't work for me in the Diocese of Trenton, however. At 7:30 p.m., Father Jason and I took a walk in the neighborhood and ended up at Da Roberto's on the Borgo Pio. Some wine and a little pasta were the perfect way to end the day and bring the weekend to a close. On the way back, we ran into Archbishop Roades from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship. We have mutual friends and had a lovely conversation.
I look forward to seeing what the next week brings! Meanwhile, buona notte!