ST. DAMIEN OF MOLOKAI: A NOBLE FIGURE, AN AUTHENTIC SERVANT OF GOD
Monday, October 12, 2009
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2009 - Just a note to say that there will be no update today, but I will be back here tomorrow. In the meantime - enjoy!

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I have interview commitments throughout the day and throughout the city of Rome and am grabbing what time I have in between appointments, the last of which is at 6:30 this evening, to tell you about yesterdays canonization Mass. I am also posting some of the photos I took in a magnificent, sun-splashed St. Peters Square where the sky was a cobalt blue and the air as clear as bell, after a night of rain. Ill place those between the paragraphs of this story.

At a later date I will post photos from the joyous dinner celebration last evening with Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu and the 550 faithful of the official pilgrimage group. Such a special man St. Damien of Molokai for so many people all over the world!

My EWTN colleague John Elson, two friends of mine Linda Del Rio and her sister, Julie Holden and I joined the estimated 80,000 faithful to mark the day when the Church welcomed five new saints, including Damien of Molokai, known and beloved by millions throughout the world.

As the four of us approached St. Peters Square to go through security at about 8:20, I felt something was wrong as I looked at the massive crowds that had gathered near the square and in adjacent streets, hundreds of whom were jam-packed into an underground walkway that leads to the square from Via delle Fornaci, and goes under the very busy Via di Porta Cavalleggeri.

I was not puzzled by the massive crowds that is not unusual at the Vatican for momentous occasions like Sunday. I was puzzled by the fact that no one seemed to be moving, notwithstanding the 8 a.m. open time for the security checks. Finally, at 8:30, a half hour late, the security lines opened and the indescribably large crowd many of whom had been waiting since 7 a.m., if not earlier, began to pour into the square literally a non-stop river of people.

Pilgrims filled the seats faster than the eye could watch. There seemed to be no order and no discipline usually the hallmarks of similar Vatican events. I saw very few security people in the square and not a single Swiss Guard, a traditional presence for such events. Now I was really puzzled.

Massive crowds in front of us in St. Peters Square ...

John, Linda, Julie and I finally made our way to aisle seats just feet away from the obelisk in St. Peters Square. As I glanced at the banners of the new saints and looked to what should have been the covered area where the altar is placed, the mystery got a lot deeper. There was no altar! No papal altar. No one filling the chairs to the right of the altar where the diplomatic corps is usually seated. No guests of honor or VIPS or priests seated, as is customary, in the section to the left of the non-altar. I could, however, see a huge truck behind the altar area I still have no idea of why it was there or what it had been doing though I could guess a few minutes later.

Crowds to the right of us

At 9:45 ten minutes before Mass was scheduled to begin - it became quite clear that, unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of us sitting in St. Peters Square, Mass would be inside the basilica and wed have to watch on the four TV screens placed in the square. To say pilgrims were disappointed would be an understatement especially the Hawaiians who had flown for nearly 20 hours and 12,000 miles! In addition, most of the faithful outside were unable to follow the Mass because they also ran out Mass booklets. If enough had been printed, we do not know where they had been kept.

Crowds to the left of us

I found it quite striking that we could see the moon on this brilliantly sunny morning.

The Vatican announcement of the canonization ceremony about a week ago said the Mass would be in St. Peters Square. The tickets distributed by the Prefecture of the Papal Household said Mass was in St. Peters Square. The front cover of the Mass books we used (I went to the press office to procure books for John, Linda, Julie and myself) said St. Peters Square.

I know from previous experiences that Masses and weekly general audiences have been said in St. Peters Square in all circumstances, rain or shine, hot temps or not. To be honest, starting about 7 a.m. or so Saturday morning, a day earlier, it really poured for about 90 minutes, It was a torrential downpour but by 9 or so, everything was fine blue skies, no rain, just damp streets. Perhaps there was fear that would happen again on Sunday. Saturday night it did rain but by 7 Sunday morning things were quite lovely the clouds were disappearing and the Hawaiian sky and temperatures that would accompany us the rest of the day began to appear about 7:30.

St. Peters Square as we were about to leave, following the Angelus recited by the Pope who did come out to the square for this and later got in his white Jeep.

I do know from several invited guests that they were informed of the change of venue for Mass only a very short time before Mass began and, in fact, the confusion inside St. Peters Basilica was as great as it was in the square. How very un-Vatican, so many commented to me people who were familiar with such ceremonies.

I love this photo of the Holy Father, which I took through the spray of water of the south fountain.

I must say that when Mass started, people seemed to be more recollected and participate, even though there is no feeling of being in a church when you are in the square. Especially if the Pope is elsewhere.

The most negative part of an otherwise beautiful, happy Eucharistic celebration was that probably 30,000 plus people never received communion, including the back half of the square where we were. The priests who distributed communion indicated here by the white and yellow umbrellas was far too few. They needed 200 alone in St. Peters Square and there was no where near that number.

And I especially love this picture of the tapestries depicting each of the five new saints: Zygmunt Felinski, Francisco Coll, Damien de Veuster, Brother Rafael and Jeanne Jugan (St. Marie de la Croix).

Benedict XVI in St. Peters Square at the end of Mass about to recite the Angelus:

More tomorrow the Damien story and the Pope's homily, Hawaii, my conversations with Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Audrey Toguchi, the miracle lady, her physician, Dr. Walter Chang, the postulator of St. Damiens cause, Fr. Emilio, a couple from Kalaupapa, where Damien lived among leprosy patients (a couple cured of the disease, by the way) and so many more.

Write to Joan at:
joansrome@ewtn.com




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