Day 9: Mother of the Church in St. Peter's Square at the Opening Mass of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
TO BE in St. Peter's Square, attending Pope's Mass, not only for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, but also for the Opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, is indeed a great grace. If I add to that the fact that my being in Italy for a year more happened only through some honest mistake, and the ticket I had for this Mass was volunteered to me when I had despaired of it, then I can do nothing, but bow my head in awe at the Mercy of a Providence who knows what I need even if don't.
That Providence included skipping an incredibly long line going into the square through a coincidental meeting with a friend bishop. He offered me a lift, and so I entered the square from the Vatican Gardens, feeling like some important V.I.P. without having to elbow my way through my fellow hoi polloi. The feeling didn't last long since I was only too aware that V.I.P's don't stay in the Square. Besides, a guard stopped me: he seemed bewildered that a short, non-bow-tied Asian was walking in that area. The easiest way out was to squash all my remaining internal pretensions to VIP-hood and claim I was the driver of the bishop (in fact that was his advice). I know that struggling through the monstrous line would have been Providence, too, but skipping it probably averted my fainting in the line since, wanting to make it early, I hadn't had a decent breakfast.
Providence it was, too, that the forecast said it was nearly 50% going to rain, but it only drizzled a bit -- as if to test our faith and give us an opportunity for greater merit -- but in the end, I didn't have to open my umbrella. By the time of the Gospel, the skies began to clear. By the time the Pope was opening the Holy Door, the sun was blazing in the cool air. It's not my intention to end this article this soon by talking about the end of the ceremony this early; rather I wanted to point out that many times, we receive from God what is contrary to what men say we would (especially weather forecasters). And the fact is, what we receive is always better -- this is how Providence is.
We know this is true from personal experience. On the contrary, the choices of human beings, at times, are not even good or just. That idea struck me with some special force during the prayer of the faithful at Mass. We prayed for lawmakers and governments -- that they may serve all men and be passionate for justice and peace. We prayed for sinners and the violent -- that they may know the gravity of evil and their hearts may receive healing. The face that the former was said in Arabic, and the latter in French spoke to me. Did the appropriate Vatican office choose those languages on purpose for whatever reason, or was that providential as well? Maybe both?
But conspiracy theories aside, there were other truly striking moments as well: striking and moving. There was the instance when I spotted an empty seat in the fast-filling square and asked the Italian lady sitting beside it if I could take it. She told me with a concerned look, "Yes, but it's wet." Since I was wearing thick jeans anyway, I smiled and said, "It doesn't matter." But before I could sit, she had already taken out a piece of tissue paper and wiped the seat dry for me. Wow -- mercy from a woman from Sicily I had met only 5 seconds ago. She now reminded me of my mother.
There was the instance when, after praying the rosary to prepare for Mass, we sang the Salve. No one said anything, and certainly nothing was shown on screen to indicate it, but spontaneously everyone stood and the whole square resounded in singing the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen). And because the hymn was part of the celebration at the end of the Mass, Our Lady got a double salvo of Salve's on her big day. It's just as well, since we know that if we want God to have mercy on us, the best way is to pray through the Mother of Mercy who is his mother.
Then there were the instances when Pope Francis manifested his connection to his predecessors. First, he referred once more to his predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, in the context of another Holy Door that opened the Church 50 years ago "to the men and women of our time": Vatican II. Later he greeted Benedict XVI, whose humble and meek presence there moved many people to tears -- at least I was. At the Angelus, the Pope asked the people to shout out a greeting of affection to "Papa Benedetto." I don't know if Pope Francis meant all these gestures to mean what I understood them to be, but it is this: that Providence is taking care of the Church in the continuity of its holy pastors.
Lastly, there were the testimonies of people I randomly interviewed for this article at the end of the ceremony. I asked the Sicilian beside me if she came just for this and she roundly said, "Si!" It turns out she had an entire barrio with her, and when asked why they came for the Jubilee despite the distance, they responded simultaneously. The response was cheerfully chaotic and can be summarized as: "We are faithful, we believe in Jesus!" This same idea was echoed by two young ladies in front of me, one of whom I noticed knelt on the uncomfortable sanpietrini during the consecration. That was Laura, a Mexican, and she was with Courtney from New York.
The most moving testimony, of course, came from our kababayans, three of whom I spotted as I was leaving the square. As it turned out, they were sisters all working in Rome. It was Rosie who spoke for the group.
"Matagal na po naming hinihintay itong Jubilee na ito. Kahit ano pa ang sinasabi nila na nakakatakot dahil dun sa nangyari sa Paris, wala po kaming pakialam. Ang alam namin, ang Panginoon ang kasama namin at walang mas malakas, kundi Siya ho." She explained this in the context of their children's and relatives' fears for their safety back home. Amidst Gina's and Monet's (her sisters) comments of "Faith, po!" "Mga anak namin, takot!" I saw tears form in Rosie's eyes, and I had to exert effort to suppress mine, for I remembered my sister telling me as well, "Take care." Ah, the faith of the Filipino and the love among the Filipino's family.
Such experience of the universality of the Church and the strength of faithful's faith could only make me see how appropriate it was to be in St. Peter's Square celebrating Mary's big solemnity and asking for God's Mercy with the Pope, under the gaze of Our Lady, Mother of the Church. It's that mosaic image that meets your eyes as you look up to the right when you're facing the Basilica. This was indeed a great grace. But it is also a reminder that the Providence, who knows what I need even if don't and from whom I receive all grace and mercy, is sending me -- and you -- as His instruments of grace and mercy to everyone we meet.
(Robert Z. Cortes is a Ph.D. student in Social Institutional Communication at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, Rome. He has an M.A. in Education Leadership from Columbia University, N.Y.)
Day 1: Our lady of the Sacred Heart in Sant'Andrea della Valle
Day 2: Our Lady and Child in San Salvatore in Onda
Day 3: Sant'Agnese in Agone
Day 4: Santa Maria della Strada in the Church of Il Gesù
Day 5: Mother of Sorrows in San Carlo ai Catinari
Day 6: The Presentation of Mary in Santa Maria in Monticelli
Day 7: Holy Mary, Help of the Poor in Santissima Trinità dei Pelligrini
Day 8: Our Lady of Montserrat in Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli