I am not quite sure what it is that I’m trying to convey with this particular post. I suppose it’s more for my own memory than anything else.
Those of us who have been blessed with opportunities to travel the world, as I have been, sooner or later have one of those “a-ha!” moments when we personally experience what we call the “universality” of the Catholic Church.
These moments occur when we understand that the Church we belong to, and the faith we profess, is much bigger and richer than what we experience in our home parish. We see and hear this all the time, but actually experiencing it is the real eye-opener.
My first such experience occurred on my first trip to Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala with students from the Newman Center. I attended a Sunday Mass celebrated in a mixture of Spanish and T’zutujil Maya with a crowd of 2000 people that filled the church and spread into the plaza outside. Although I couldn’t really understand what was being said, I still “knew” the Mass and could participate in it fully. It’s a real rush to know that you really and truly belong to something much bigger than yourself. Such experiences give you a new and broader perspective on being Catholic and in some sense your own place in the world.
I had another, yet different, sort of experience during my recent trip to Rome. Several times during the week I spent there, I found myself immersed with pilgrims from different countries. Totally unexpected and unplanned.
As I wrote earlier, my trip from the US to Rome was in the company of a group of Polish pilgrims from Chicago. It was great to see not only their excitement to be going to Rome for the Beatification Mass, but also their devotion to Pope John Paul II as one of their countrymen.
Once I arrived in Rome, I spent the next several days with Fr. Roderick and the Dutch radio personnel and other pilgrims that were in and around the Friezen Church. We all know that the state of the Church in The Netherlands and other parts of Europe is dire, but seeing and talking to these people, I still sensed a spark of faith in them.
The photo above is a group of French bloggers and journalists that Fr. Roderick and I had lunch with on the Monday following the beatification Mass. We met them quite by accident when one of them recognized Fr. Roderick and invited us to tour Vatican Radio with them. We had already been there, but that didn’t stop us from going again, or joining them for lunch at Pope Benedict’s favorite German restaurant! They were very nice to speak English when they could, realizing that I don’t speak French. It was very much appreciated!
At other times during the week, I spent time with my American colleagues and friends, conversed with nuns from a variety of orders and places, was introduced to a South African seminarian just days before his ordination as a transitional deacon, and met a New Zealander (or was he Australian?) working in young adult ministry in New York.
These random encounters with different nationalities continued even as I was leaving Italy to return home. On the “Leonardo Express” train which took me from Rome’s Termini Station to Fiumicino Airport, I found a seat in a compartment of Spanish pilgrims. As I spent my last minutes in Italy, I overheard them discuss the Beatification Mass, what it meant to them, and their desire to share their inspiration with the youth at home. They were under no illusions about the enormity of their task, but yet they were willing to try.
And, how could I forget the Chinese-American women seated across the aisle from me? During our flight home, she prayed a couple of rosaries and reflected on a set of prayer cards that she had with her.
I suppose one of the things that I’m trying to convey here is encouragement. Going to Rome always inspires me. Seeing people from around the world is encouraging and reminds me that in spite of all the problems that we face, both in the Church and in the world, there is reason to have hope.
If you’ve never been on a pilgrimage outside your own country, my encouragement to you is to go and open your mind to a new understanding of the universality of the Church.
Afterall, the word “catholic” means “universal” and we should embrace that!