January 11, 2013

Indianapolis deacon serves Christmas Eve Mass with pope

Pope Benedict XVI uses incense as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 24. Pontifical North American College seminarian Martin Rodriguez of Indianapolis, center, served during the liturgy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Benedict XVI uses incense as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Dec. 24. Pontifical North American College seminarian Martin Rodriguez of Indianapolis, center, served during the liturgy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Sean Gallagher

Transitional Deacon Martin Rodriguez received a special Christmas gift a few weeks before the celebration of Christ’s birth when he was invited to assist Pope Benedict XVI during a Christmas Eve night Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Six deacons assisted at the Mass. Deacon Rodriguez, a member of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, was one of two to remain at the pope’s side during the entire liturgy.

“The only interaction that I had with the pope was at the end of the Mass,” said Deacon Rodriguez, who is completing four years of priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome this spring and being ordained to the priesthood on May 18. “I said, ‘Good to see you Holy Father.’ Then he said in Italian: ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I am from Indianapolis, but I am originally from Mexico.’ Then he looked at me in the eye and said, ‘Oh, Indianapolis. … Feliz Navidad.’

“I was ecstatic that he spoke Spanish to me. It was a great blessing to be one of the deacons for the successor of Peter. He made it even more special by [wishing me a merry Christmas] in my mother tongue.”

Deacon Rodriguez emigrated to the United States with his family when he was a child.

In an e-mail interview with The Criterion, he said that he never could have imagined when he became a seminarian eight years ago that he would eventually assist at a Christmas Eve Mass with the pope.

“It has certainly been an adventure, but that is what happens when we say ‘yes’ to the Lord,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “When we say ‘yes,’ we don’t know where he is going to take us, but that is where faith comes in.”

Although Deacon Rodriguez has been in formation in Rome for four years, this was the first time that he actually spent Christmas there.

Serving alongside the pope made it special for him. So did a trip his brother, Victor, made to spend the holiday with him in the Eternal City.

“The fact that I served with the Holy Father, and knowing my brother was there as well, made it really special,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “My brother was there and for me, he was a representative of my entire family. I knew he was going to be looking at his big brother serve with the pope, but he also reminded me of all the people that would be watching the Mass on TV.”

Among those who watched the Mass were his family in Indianapolis and fellow St. Mary parishioners.

“My family told me that many people were stopping them at church congratulating them for my ‘appearance’ with the Holy Father,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “They also felt overwhelmed and proud for so many good comments. Their happiness also brought me happiness, of course.” †

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