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It is finished!

June 16, 2014

Today I finished my last final exam of the year, and with it, the entire S.T.B. It feels good to finally be done with this degree. I’ve learned and grown a lot, but now I’m looking forward to the S.T.L. Today I’m off to Boston to attend the Lonergan Workshop for the rest of the week. Next week I head to New Jersey and then Missouri to begin my summer assignment. Now that I’m done with exams and more importantly, studying for exams, I might be able to share a few more posts. The last two weeks there wasn’t too much to share as my time was spent studying and taking exams.

Last day of first cycle classes

May 29, 2014

Today was a big day for many of my classmates and I, we finished our classes for the so-called “first cycle” of theology which grants one a pontifical degree known as the S.T.B. Next year I will begin another degree for “second cycle,” which leads to an S.T.L.

Many of my classmates who came here from over 40 countries will not be returning. Many of them will be returning to their home countries or sent out on mission to begin new apostolates and ministries, sharing what they’ve learned here in Rome. Today was the day to say our goodbyes. We might run into each other during exams, but today was our last day all together after three years.

Of course, I have a theory, that for those who give their lives in service to the Church, there is no such thing as “goodbye,” only “see you later.” I don’t know when I’ll see some of my classmates again, but with all of the events that take place in the Church, you never know when you might just run into someone again. Even if it’s 30 years from now, it’s still, “later.”

That still didn’t make certain parts of today somewhat sad and difficult in saying “see you later,” to so many good friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few years. When people ask me what I like most about studying in Rome, my first response is always my classmates at the university and the seminary.

Here’s a photo of the group of us after one of our classes this morning.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Many of my classmates gathered together for a photo on our last day of classes.

Hall Dinner

May 25, 2014

There are over 250 seminarians at the North American College. It’s a great blessing, yet with so many guys it can be hard to get to know everyone. Within the 250 there are many smaller groups created which form more of a family environment. One of those groups is formed by the people you live with, your corridor or hall. There are four residential floors in the building, each floor divided into three wings or halls. For all three years I have lived in the same room on the hallway known officially as, “3rd Hospital” and affectionately as, “3rd Carnivore.”

Once a semester each of the individual the halls get together to have dinner.  Tonight was that night for the men of 3rd Carnivore. Naturally, in order to fulfill and maintain our hall’s namesake, I fired up the smoker and cooked some chicken. Other guys helped contribute with homemade breads and desserts.

Before we all leave our home of 3rd Carnivore to return to our homes in the United States, Canada and Australia, it was nice to gather as a group and finish the year with a good meal and good company.

*Unrelated Note* – While cooking, a gentleman from Oklahoma was touring the college and when he saw me with the smoker, he asked, “Are you that guy from Lino’s show?” Sometimes it’s just a small and funny world.

Fraternity weekend

May 20, 2014

Last weekend I participated in a fraternity weekend with my classmates of 3rd Theology. A fraternity weekend is not a retreat, but rather a weekend in which all the members of a particular class all take a trip together. We all packed on a bus on Friday and headed for the beach. There we had a hotel more or less to ourselves right on the beach. The weekend had a pretty light schedule, we had Mass in the middle of the day, but the rest was free. It provided a great time to just relax and hang out with classmates. We’ve all been here for three years together at this point. The weekend provided two opportunities for me. The first was just to relax and chat with some of my better friends. The second was to continue to get to know some of my other classmates who maybe don’t study at the same university or share an apostolate with me.

Right now we are in the “home stretch,” next Thursday is the last day of classes. Then I have four exams before returning to the USA for the summer. So it was nice to get away and not worry about all of the various tasks that face one this time of year.

It was truly a relaxing and fraternal weekend.

Field trip and refugee presentation

May 16, 2014

On Wednesday we took another field trip for my class on Catholic social doctrine. The last time, we visited the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. This time we visited a center for helping refugees, known as, “Centro Astalli.” We received a tour of their facility and learned about their programs. They serve meals, teach Italian, and provide medical and legal assistance to refugees who find themselves in Rome. After visiting the facility that seeks to respond to the crisis of refugees on a local, pastoral level, we made our way to a classroom for a presentation. The presentation was on the work of the international organization, Jesuit Refugee Services. The organization seeks to respond to the crisis on an international level. They have facilities like the one we visited in Rome all over the world. They also help to get people out of dangerous situations and provide legal assistance. Lastly, they also seek to work against some of the root causes that have created the crisis. Given that the Jesuits were already over the world when Jesuit Refugee Services was founded, they were able to establish an international network. Different countries, including the USA, have other organizations associated with the nation’s episcopal conference. When I worked at CNS, in the USCCB building, I had the opportunity to meet many people who worked with Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB.

This was not the first time I have attended a workshop/conference/presentation on refugees. However, this time there was a different feel to the experience. That difference was created by the crowd, my classmates. In the past when I attended presentations of this nature, in the USA, all or at least, the overwhelming majority, of those present came from America. This time it was very different, as I’ve mentioned before there are approximately 140 students in my class who come from around 40 different countries. The woman leading the presentation spoke of various situations in different countries around the world, whether they be countries dealing with conflict, or countries where refugees were arriving. All of these situations and conflicts touched all of us in very different ways. That is to say as she rattled off countries, there was often someone from those very places. It made conflicts and difficult situations that often seem so far away, much closer. Instead of several thousand miles away, they were just two rows in front or behind me. What a blessed learning experience indeed.

Appearance on “The Catholic Guy” with Lino Rulli

May 11, 2014

Last Tuesday I sat down for a half-hour interview with Lino Rulli of “The Catholic Guy” radio show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel 129. All week-long Rulli stayed at the NAC while interviewing seminarians about our lives. In the pre-interivew meeting he said he didn’t want to necessarily sit around and talk about theology and Church issues, but rather about us and our lives as seminarians and our lives before entering seminary to show that we are in many respects just regular guys trying to live out our vocation, which just might be the priesthood.

My interview touched on quite a few topics from my life. As in the past, it was a little different being the one being questioned as opposed to the one asking questions. My experience in journalism was one of the things we discussed, in addition to Albania, seminary life, and of course, BBQ!

Since SiriusXM is a subscription service it is hard to find the interview, if you’re already a subscriber you can go to the SiriusXM web site and go through the on-line player to find the show from May 8, 2014. It is also possible to sign up for a free trial in order to hear the piece as well, at least, that’s what I had to do.

For more on some of the topics discussed in the interview see the following posts. If you can’t listen, reading these posts will in some instances give much more detail than in the half-hour interview.

Perpetual profession in Assisi

May 4, 2014
A look at the inside of the famous Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

A look at the inside of the famous Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to attend the perpetual profession of four sisters from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus (Suore Francescane Missionarie di Gesù Bambino). Two of the four are classmates of mine at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In order to support them on the most important day of their lives, we organized a group of classmates to attend the  beautiful ceremony.

A bunch of us left early in the morning to make a full day trip out of the experience since some had never been to Assisi. Given that I spent a summer living in the small medieval town, and was not one of the Franciscans busy making vows, I became the default tour guide.

The morning group was composed of two Ecuadorians, a Brazilian, an Italian and myself. Later we met up with a Peruvian, a Portuguese and two other Italians.

We had a great time visiting many of the different Churches in the upper part of Assisi. We stopped in each to pray for the sisters who would be making their vows that afternoon.

Of course there was a necessary stop for pizza before heading down the hill to Basilica di Santa Maria deli Angeli, home to the famous Porziuncola. There is quite literally a small Chapel inside of the larger basilica.

There we joined hundreds of family and friends for a beautiful liturgy celebrated by the recently named Cardinal Bassetti from nearby Perugia. During the Mass, the sisters each professed perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the mother general of their order.

Unfortunately we only had a few minutes at the reception as we had to catch the last train back to Rome so we weren’t able to get any photos with the sisters at the reception. They had many other guests waiting to congratulate them as well.

Canonization report published

May 2, 2014

After attending the Canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II last Sunday, I wrote a reflection, which I shared here.

Since then, the diocese has published a edited version of said reflection for the Catholic Missourian. An online version of the published article can be found here.

What a great joy and blessing it was to attend such a historic event. Yesterday we had no classes for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it’s like labor day in Italy, so I was finally able to catch up on some sleep.

Venerating the relics of St. John Paul II

April 28, 2014
The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

The stone marking the spot where St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

This afternoon we received an e-mail from the Rector that the College had received a relic of St. John Paul II. It is a piece of his bloodied cassock from the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.

We were given an opportunity to venerate the relic after Evening Prayer. As I walked up the aisle I still felt some pain in my feet and general soreness in my muscles from the experience of the Canonization.

Yet as I got closer to venerating the relic I came to realize and reflect on the fact that the pain or soreness I was feeling paled in comparison with being shot multiple times and suffering significant blood loss.

After being shot, St. John Paul II continued to lead the Church, traveling the world, for more than 20 years.

A good example of perseverance and courage to continue through one’s struggles.

St. John Paul II… Pray for us!

Canonization Experience

April 28, 2014

71,004 is the officially listed seating capacity of Farout Field in Columbia, where fans gather to watch the Mizzou Tigers play football each fall. 1.3 million has been the reported combined attendance for the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II for those in the vicinity of St. Peter’s as well as those watching on screens across the city. That’s over 18 Farout Fields filled to capacity.

As the weeks and days approached for the canonization I began to realize just how difficult it is to even come close to comprehending a crowd of that size.

As the city continued to fill up with pilgrims in the final days leading up to the ordination I left to help lead a retreat for a group of families from all over Italy. We planned the retreat so we could return on Saturday, in time for the canonization. Those who desired to do so could go to St. Peter’s Square and wait all night. That’s just what I did.

Upon return to the Eternal City I ran across town as quickly as one could given the increased traffic. I packed a bag with some water, snacks, sleeping bag, and my breviary. I made my way down the hill and met up with a group of fellow seminarians from the Pontifical North American College.

There we created our space to sleep, hang out and pray amongst the sea of pilgrims. It was quite the camp site. There was a great excitement in the air as many were singing in several different languages, flags from countries all of the world could be seen waving above the crowds.

At one point in the night we were all allowed onto the Via della Conciliazione, the street leading up to St. Peter’s Square. As the crowds made their way onto the street, I was separated from my group. At that point we were still not allowed into St. Peter’s Square, so everyone had to remain standing in a crowd taking up the length of the street.

After an initial wave of movement, I found myself with a few Italians who belong to Communion and Liberation movement. Having just returned from a retreat of another movement within the Church provided for a nice conversation about the different movements within the Church and their respective charisms.

When the crowd finally settled in for the long haul, I found myself surrounded people from Italy, France, Poland, Romania, and Spain. In particular there were groups of high school students from France and Poland. Both groups loved to sing. At times they even sang back and forth with each other in the different languages. Neither spoke the other’s language, yet they were able to communicate a great joy between each other because of their common faith. Displays of flags and the singing of songs at events such as this are concrete expressions of the true Catholicity, that is, the universality, of the Church.

After many hours standing around, we finally made our way forward towards St. Peter’s Square. I ended up on the very edge of St. Peter’s Square in the area that is officially known as the Pope Pius XII Square.

As for the Mass itself, there were two moments that stick out in particular. The first came during the Formula for Canonization, the moment when the Pope declares the blessed to be a saint, and the second during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Everyday each of us say any number of words, most of them inconsequential. Only in certain cases do our words have an effect on reality. When a baseball umpire declares a player “out!”, the player is actually, “out.” No matter how many times we yell “Safe!” at the television, nothing changes, the player is still, “out.” This phenomenon, on a much more important matter, is what makes the Formula of Canonization so special.

Only the Pope, on behalf of the universal Church, has the authority to declare someone a saint. So when he prays the Formula of Canonization, he does so with that same authority, and the Church from that moment forward and forever enroll that person, or in this case St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, among all the saints.

In our diocese, many are praying and working hard for the beatification of the Servant of God, Fr. Augustine Tolton. While it is a good and holy thing, something to be encouraged, that we continue working and praying for his cause, until the Pope declares him to be among the beatified, he will still be considered a Servant of God by the Church.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to directly hear the long-used Formula of Canonization. The words prayed in Latin by the Pope are the same words that have been prayed by many popes throughout the history of the Church at many canonizations. While on retreat in the days leading up to the canonization, I stayed at the shrine of the Redemptorist priest, St. Gerard Majella. There in a display amongst his other effects, was the Missal used at this Canonization in 1904, opened to the Formula of Canonization.

Two days later I heard those same words coming from Pope Francis. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Specifically, it is a moment in which one feels a particularly connection not only with those being canonized, but all the saints, a connection between Heaven and Earth. It is a particularly intimate moment between God and man. It is this same connection between God and Man that also made the Eucharistic prayer such a powerful experience.

After standing for nearly 12 hours straight without sitting, we finally arrived at the Eucharistic Prayer. Just like thousands of other times when I have attended Mass, I knelt. Yet, this time, in part due to the physical circumstances, kneeling too became a deep spiritual experience in itself. Kneeling becomes something that many of us take for granted, and when that happens, we lose the true significance of the act.

In this case I was already physically weak, tired, and sore, yet kneeling on hard cobblestones became a great grace. That is because in that moment, I knew exactly why we were kneeling, for Christ, for his sacrifice on the Cross, and his presence in the Eucharist. All of the supposed suffering I was experiencing physically, suddenly seemed like nothing, as it truly was in comparison with his sacrifice on the Cross.

In the end, the entire canonization experience, beginning with waiting in line with fellow Catholics from all over the world, to the Formula of Canonization, and finally receiving the Eucharist, truly was an experience that can be summed up with the first line of that same Formula of Canonization. It was an experience “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life.”

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