March 8, 2013

Archdiocesan seminarians gather in St. Peter’s Square for historic events

By Sean Gallagher

More than 2,500 years old, Rome has been at the center of countless political, cultural and spiritual movements and events of great importance for much of the world.

This track record sets the bar high for something happening there to be truly called historic.

That standard was met on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28. Those two days saw the end of the papacy of Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus. It was the first time in some 600 years that a bishop of Rome had resigned his office. (Related: More coverage of the papal transition)

Three seminarians of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis who were recently interviewed by The Criterion witnessed these momentous events.

On Feb. 27, Benedict held the last general audience of his papacy in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Approximately 200,000 people attended, far outstripping the size of an ordinary audience for such events.

Transitional deacons Douglas Marcotte and Martin Rodriguez and seminarian Matthew Tucci, all receiving priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, arrived at the square about two hours before the audience began.

“I wanted to say thank you,” said Deacon Marcotte. “[Benedict] has truly been an inspiration to me as I have studied for the priesthood. I also wanted to take advantage of my opportunity to see history.”

“Pope Benedict was really the first pope I ever felt like I really ‘knew,’ ” said Tucci, a member of Holy Family Parish in New Albany. “He has shaped my life as a young man and seminarian in so many ways. He is a pastor and teacher, and his love for Jesus Christ is an example for all of us.”

Deacon Rodriguez was amazed to see the size of the crowd, which flowed out of the square well down the Via della Conciliazione.

“Like the Holy Father said in his speech, it was a sign that ‘the Church is alive,’ ” Deacon Rodriguez said. “There were people [of] all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds, and we were all there to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘We will miss you.’

“It was very touching when the whole crowd stood up clapping at the end of his speech. None of us wanted to stop clapping because we wanted to show how much we love and appreciate Pope Benedict.”

Tucci saw in the massive crowd a sign of the Church around the world.

“The universal Church is so alive,” said Tucci, who is in his first year of theological formation in Rome. “Just seeing a microcosm of the whole world in St. Peter’s Square to support the Holy Father was an inspiring sight.”

Deacons Marcotte and Rodriguez, who are scheduled to be ordained priests in May, have been inspired by Benedict over the course of many years through their priestly formation.

“He is certainly a great theologian, and that has been important to my understanding of the faith,” said Deacon Marcotte. “However, his witness to prayer and humility has been inspiring and formative.”

That inspiration continued for Deacon Rodriguez right through the retired pontiff’s speech at the final general audience when the pope emeritus spoke about trusting that Christ was always leading the Church, even when it is buffeted by many trials and hardships and the faithful might then think that he is somehow asleep and oblivious to their concerns.

“Personally, I can relate to that statement in my own vocation because there have been moments of difficulty and challenge,” Deacon Rodriguez said, “times when I also thought that the Lord was asleep, but in reality Christ was totally aware of what was happening. When I think of a contemporary model for humility, I think of Pope Benedict XVI.”

That esteem for Benedict led Deacon Rodriguez back to St. Peter’s Square late in the afternoon on Feb. 28 to see him fly off in a helicopter, leaving the Vatican for the last time as pontiff. Thousands joined the deacon in the square.

“It was really sad to see him leave,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “I almost wanted to say ‘Don’t go, Benedict! Don’t leave us!’ I do feel like a sheep without a shepherd now that he is gone. Yet, I hope and pray that the cardinals choose the right man that God wants for our Church.”

Cardinals from the United States have been staying at the North American College in the days leading up to the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor.

Many members of the media from the United States have been following the cardinals. Deacon Rodriguez, who plays on the seminary’s soccer team in the Clericus Cup tournament among seminaries in Rome, said that a CBS film crew even shot video of him and his teammates during practice.

“They even asked me to take a shot at the goal so they could record the trajectory of the ball,” he said.

All of the media attention has not distracted him from his priority of praying for the cardinals as they begin to consider who will next lead the universal Church.

“I certainly pray for our next pope,” Deacon Rodriguez said. “We have started a novena for the cardinals so that they may listen to the Holy Spirit in their decisions.”

Deacon Rodriguez hopes to be there in the coming days when the next pope is introduced to the world.

“I sure hope to be at the square for that great occasion,” he said. “The college has even arranged late dinners for those who would like to be down there every evening [during the conclave] if necessary.” †

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