On Nov. 17, that dream became a reality when he joined an intimate group of bishops, priests and lay persons at a Mass in the Chapel within Casa Santa Martha where Pope Francis resides, very near St. Peter’s Basilica.
Fr. Jim is very fond of Pope Francis and his teachings, saying he wished more people would read about issues the pontiff has raised. “For example, the pope might raise the question of gossip, a common failing when people judge and are critical of others,” he said. “Gossip tears down the opportunity for community. Our emphasis should be more on forgiveness and understanding, being merciful and kind to others.”
Believing that Pope Francis’ words and actions are captivating the whole world, even people with no religion at all, Fr. Jim considered the opportunity to concelebrate Mass with and meet the pontiff face-to-face as the No. 1 item on his bucket list.
To make this happen, Fr. Jim wrote a letter to the secretary of state of Vatican City, stating it would be a great pleasure to participate in one of the Pope’s Masses as a way to celebrate his 60th anniversary as a solemnly professed Augustinian friar. Fr. Jim received a quick response and was given the date of Nov. 17.
Upon receiving this exciting news, he immediately planned a two-week vacation (more of a retreat) visiting the Augustinian friars at St. Monica’s in Rome, and enjoying the opportunity to rest and read, all the time awaiting his special Mass. Although a frequent visitor to Rome, Fr. Jim has usually been responsible for a group of 40 students, Merrimack staff, alumni and friends on the annual Pellegrinaggio in Italia, so being on his own in Rome was a true luxury.
The pontiff’s resident, Casa Santa Martha, was built by Pope John Paul II as a residence to house the cardinals when they attend conclaves; he wanted rooms that were simple and accessible. In more recent years, the number of cardinals has increased, and the residence now houses bishops and dignitaries while they are in Rome. This is where Pope Francis has chosen to reside so he can live each day meeting, speaking to and dining with people. He lives in a modest three-room apartment with a bedroom, living room and small office.
On the mornings he is free, Pope Francis celebrates Mass at 7 a.m. in the Santa Martha Chapel with invited guests. This is where Fr. Jim experienced the honor of concelebrating Mass with Pope Francis and listen to the sermon in Italian, most of which Fr. Jim said he was able to understand.
After the Mass, during a private audience with the pontiff, Fr. Jim had an opportunity to request individual prayers and blessings.
It was a day Fr. Jim will never forget … and perhaps a day Pope Francis will never forget either.