ROME (Italy). It was such a sunny and very hot day. The day was Friday, 11th of June, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Closing of the Year of Priests. We were told, there were 15,000 priests in attendance. By far, the largest Mass ever concelebrated.
We were already in line at left side of the colonnades facing the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as early as 8:15 in the morning. I've never seen so many priests, save for the Philippine National Congress of the Clergy last January. I didn't know anybody except for the priests that I saw days earlier. But in that line, I just felt very happy and very much at Rome. We're in Rome and we're in the company of priests, bishops, Cardinals, and the Holy Father. It was family and it was home!
The security check was not waived. At 8:45 a.m., the bells were tolling. And we were still in line. 9:15 a.m. passed. Finally, were made to enter near the Aula Paulo VI. We were told to leave behind our bags. Our bags! Then, all had to take out their bottles of water, digital cameras, and everything that could fit in the pockets. The entire Aula was filled with bags. I just thought it would take a miracle of St. Anthony if I were to find my bag after the Mass.
As we enter the Piazza di San Pietro, the sun was smiling. Nay, the sun was laughing! It was just too hot. I kept on praying that I'll make it throughout the Mass without fainting nor having my blood pressure shoot up. Anyway, I thought, I took all my medicines that morning. It's the Closing of the Year of Priests, and it is just a small sacrifice.
Bottles were being handed out as we passed. Oh, one last bottle I saw. I had it in my right hand. Yehey! My trophy. Then there was another hand. Non c'e piu'? An elderly religious nun. Obviously, there was no more at that moment. Oh sister, I just closed my eyes, and gave it to nun. And I just didn't look back. No more water...
Then I saw two Filipino priests. We were literally running to the available seats. Let's take the seats near the aisle, I exhorted them. The Holy Father will pass by here, and so I hoped.
And yes, seminarians came in and they were bringing along the much-needed bottles of water. In front of me was a Filipino priest, at his side was a Peruvian and two Chinese priests. At my side were Italian priests. And at my back were Polish priests. That is how universal the Church is. But the Chinese came more prepared than us. They had a blue umbrella with them. The Italian priest at my side was preparing for the long sunny morning. He poured water into his cloth hat and placed it in his head. I thought it was good. But I was saving my bottle of water to drink.
Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mercedes Tuason texted me then. Bring out your blue umbrella so I could see you. She was, of course, seated along the diplomats sopra delle Collonade. Oh, the umbrella that she lent to me earlier on was left inside the bag that was now in the Aula and that which I did not if ever I would find it again.
The Swiss guards then came to their assigned positions. The Holy Mass was about to start. Then, the very beautiful Litany of the Saints. And the Holy Father started the Entrance Procession. He was in the Pope Mobile, but without the bullet proof glasses. He seemed very happy seeing the thousands of priests.
Viva il Papa! One group shouted. Another group shouting Benedetto! Followed by five rhythmic claps. There we were the Catholic priests, in the midst of the scandals engulfing us, we have chosen not be engulfed by this world's madness and utter sense of discouragement. It was not a celebration of priests, it was a celebration of the Priesthood!
On the facade of St. Peter's was the tapestry bearing the image of St. John Marie Vianney, very serious looking. As if beckoning to us priests that we take our priesthood more seriously and with more dedication.
The Holy Mass has begun, it was not the usual Penitential Rite, instead there was the Asperges. The sprinkling of the Holy Water calling to mind that from the wounded side of Christ gushed forth blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life.
After the Homily of the Holy Father, we renewed our priestly vows. It was such a wonderful scene and an unforgettable experience, the thousands of priests responding three times to the three different tasks of the priesthood, and all were in unison. Volo! I do.
At the end of the Holy Mass, the Holy Father was kneeling before an icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani, Salvation of the Roman People. He led in the Consecration and Entrustment to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Once the Mass was ended, riding the Pope Mobile, he went around the Piazza. And thankfully, he passed in front of us. And no, I failed to take pictures, I was just elated to see him pass by just in front of me.
And off we went to the Aula Paulo VI, would I find my bag? I really didn't care then, I was just happy to have attended the Holy Mass marking the closure of the Year of Priests. I went to the spot where I thought I laid my bag on that particular part of the floor. And it was not there.
The Year of Priests might have ended but the coming years are to stay in and be in love with the Priesthood of Christ that we simply share in continues on.
My bag was no longer at the pavimento. Somebody probably took pity on the bag that was just being kicked around and trampled on. He placed it on top of one of the seats. And there I found it, with nothing missing at all. I thought I lost it for good, but it was there.
I thought it is also like the priesthood. We, His priests, and the Priesthood itself, may be kicked around and trampled on, but Christ will elevate it all the more. It's His, after all.