President Minnis Blogs from the Vatican
The Vatican Gardens grotto reminded me of campus.
My Visit to the Vatican’s Church in America Congress
By Stephen D. Minnis
President of Benedictine College
It is clear that the Church sees Our Lady of Guadalupe as the conduit for the New Evangelization in the Americas and the world.
This December, I was honored to be an invited participant in the Vatican’sInternational Congress: Ecclesia in America (The Church in America). The congress was organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus and focused on the guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, Star of the New Evangelization.
I was excited to represent Benedictine College, which has been called “The Flagship College of the New Evangelization,” in this important conference. This Congress comes on the heels of the Synod of the New Evangelization.
In preparation for this meeting I read the Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Eccleisia in America (The Church in America). I also had a session with Dr. Jamie Blosser, of our outstanding Theology department, an expert in the field, to get a better lay of the land regarding the Church in America and what the Congress I was attending would entail. I also read a number of recent materials from the Vatican regarding the New Evangelization and its importance to the future of the Church.
Further, I read “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love” by Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and Msgr. Eduardo Chavez, Postulator of the Cause of Saint Juan Diego. This very well-written book set the stage for the conference. I highly recommend this book.
My intent was to provide daily updates on the conference, but the place I was staying and the Synod conference room where the event was being held did not have a wi-fi connection. Therefore, I am sending the finished version to the website.
Saturday, December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
After flying for 11 hours, I arrived in Rome at 8:00am. I wanted to get to Rome a day ahead so I would be rested. I’m glad I did since the airline lost my luggage. Well, actually they didn’t lose my luggage — they know exactly where it is — but Rome was not its location. They indicated they would have it to me by 3:00 pm (as it is coming in from Paris — don’t ask). I am writing this at 7:30pm in the same clothes I have had on for 28 hours now. I keep praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the bag to arrive before the opening mass at 6:00 pm on Sunday. The program indicates that the Mass is to take place at the “Altar of the Chair” in the Basilica of St. Peter. And: “at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration, HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI will be present in the Basilica and will deliver a brief message.” As you can imagine, I’m not looking forward to representing the college in tennis shoes and a Raven sweatshirt — although that may be a way for the Pope to remember us.
I am staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, which is — get this — in Vatican City and literally 100 feet from St. Peter’s Basilica. The Sanctae Marthae was built by Pope John Paul II so the Cardinals will have a place to stay when they come to the Vatican, specifically for a Conclave when they elect a new Pope. It housed the cardinals when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. Let me tell you, this experience is a little overwhelming. When you check in they give you “the key.” It is nothing fancy — just a gold bar basically — but it is your ticket to anywhere in the Vatican.
Anyone with the key can go in the side entrance of St. Peter’s without going through security. This side entrance opens in an area right next the main altar in St. Peter’s in an area which is off limits to the general public — unless you have “the key.” In addition, when you are going outside the Vatican gates and come back in you basically show the Swiss Guards “the key” and they let you in without any questions. Also, when you walk past the Swiss Guards, they click their heels and salute. This has caused me to want to walk in and out of the gate in order for the Swiss Guards to give the salute. Of course, I am not deserving of this, but I have to admit, it is pretty cool. (I could really get used to this. I’m wondering if Amy would be willing to salute me every time I enter or leave the house. I’m sure Sharon McCort would also be willing to do it when I get to the office. I really think I’m on to something here!)
Today, I went to Mass at a side altar for the Feast Day. This is not a good week for me to know only English. The Mass was in Italian. After Mass I came back to Sanctae Marthae for lunch and was at a table with a priest from the Congo who spoke French, two historians from Germany and a priest from Croatia. Fortunately they understood the universal symbol for “pass the bread.”
After Mass, I said a Rosary at the side altar dedicated to Blessed John Paul II and thanked him for his papacy and the impact he has had on a lot of people at the college. Benedictine College has truly benefitted from his Papacy. Fr. Brendan, Prior James, Tom Hoopes, and many others were influenced by Pope John Paul II and they have brought this inspiration to the college. Blessed John Paul II has had a direct and indirect impact on the success and strength of the college and I am forever grateful.
After lunch I learned that Pope Benedict was to make an appearance at the Piazza de Spagna, which is below the famous Spanish Steps. So I went over there and saw him drive by in his “Pope Mobile.” Even though I was a ways away, it is always a thrill to see the leader of the Church and see the thousands who will come and wait out in the cold to wave and cheer at him.
Sunday, December 9
In the morning I had the good fortune of running into Tim O’Donnell, the President of Christendom College in Virginia who was also here for the conference. Dr. O’Donnell lived here while he was getting his Doctorate in Theology and immediately became my source for all things Rome. We spent most of the day in St. Peter’s and the streets of Rome. He is a fantastic teacher and I was a willing pupil. We had an enjoyable lunch with Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and Curtis Martin, the President of FOCUS, both of whom are here for the conference. The entire conversation was in English, which helped a lot.
At noon on Sundays, if the Pope is in town, he will address the crowd from his apartment window and give a blessing. Tim and I made it outside in time for them to drape a huge banner with the Pope’s crest on it out the window and for Pope Benedict to address the overflowing crowd who cheered his every move. It doesn’t last very long, but it is special to be there in person as opposed to seeing it on television or pictures.
Of course, my bag did not arrive before Mass, so I rushed across the street to purchase a shirt and tie so I wouldn’t look like a total loser at the Mass.
Tonight, the opening mass was celebrated by Cardinal Ouellet, nine other Cardinals and twenty-five Bishops and several priests. The Mass is at the “Altar of the Chair” in the Basilica of St. Peter. The location, the opening procession, and the liturgy were fantastic. And then to top it off, at the end of Mass, Pope Benedict XVI entered and addressed the group. He then met some of the sponsors of the event and went down the aisle of the church. He passed about 5 feet from me. It was a real thrill. It was only Sunday, and I had seen the Pope three times already. The plan is to see him again on Wednesday for his audience.
By the way, when I returned from the Mass, by bag had arrived. I was grateful — as were all the people I had to be around.
Monday, December 10
Cardinal Ouellet opened the Congress on Monday morning in the Synod Room. This room is on the second floor of the Pope Paul VI building where the Pope has his audience in the winter. The Synod Room is a tiered room with very comfortable chairs and very good technology.
This is where the Synod for the New Evangelization occurred this past semester. Curtis Martin attended the three weeks of meetings for the Synod which was also attended by Pope Benedict. The room is filled with some very impressive people. There are thirty-five Cardinals and Bishops.
· Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Ponitifical Commissin for Latin America;
· Msgr. Eduardo Chavez; Professor Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary, Pontifical Commission for Latin America;
· Carl Anderson;
· Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniquez,
· Archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara;
· Archbishop Gerald Lacroix of Quebec;
· Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore;
· Archbishop Aquila of Denver;
· Cardinal Rodriguez of Santo Domingo;
· Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto;
· Dr. Vicki Thorn, Founder of Project Rachel;
· Archbishop Ricardo Andrello of Santiago de Chile;
· Archbishop Jose Arancedo of Santa Fe;
· Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix;
· Bishop Conley of Lincoln and
· Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
The morning session had several presentations. The afternoon is reserved for small groups meetings, followed by a presentation on the Year of Faith.
We first heard from Msgr. Eduardo Chavez titled: “The Even of Guadalupe at the origin of the Evangelization of the New World.” He co-wrote the book on Our Lady of Guadalupe with Carl Anderson and was the main person who collected information to support the canonization of St. Juan Diego. He is very passionate about the apparition. His presentation was in Spanish, which meant that I wore earphones — much like those guys you remember in the Nuremburg trials pictures — to understand him. I have new-found respect for the interpreters — they were awesome.
Next we heard from Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary, Pontifical Commission for Latin America provided a lecture: “Post-Synodal Apostolic ExhortationEcclesia in America: prophecy, teaching and tasks.”
After Secretary, Carriquiry, Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus, lectured on “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, in light of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the new evangelization and Mother of the civilization of love.” Mr. Anderson had an unbelievable message for us and for the world. I understand his talk will be posted on the Knights of Columbus website and I would recommend you look for it. It is powerful and just the message we need right now.
Click here to read the address.
In the afternoon there were eight working groups formed from the members of the congress on various topics. At my request, I was assigned a working group chaired by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who was introduced by Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver. The title of the working group is:The encounter with Jesus through Mary: experience of sonship and discipleship among the American peoples.
The evening session included a lecture by Bishop, Luis Ladaria, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled: The Significance of the Year of the Faith”
Overall it was a busy, yet fulfilling day. I was inspired for the college that we can be part of something significant during the Year of the Faith and beyond. It is brilliant for the Church to call upon Our Lady of Guadalupe to help with the New Evangelization. In 1531, she became the Star of the Evangelization at a critical time in the Church’s history. In Europe, because of the Reformation, 9 million people turned away from the Church. But in the Americas, because of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 9 million people were converted and joined the Church — thus the title: Star of the Evangelization.
Today, we are faced with similar challenges. Catholics in Europe are rejecting the Church, and in many ways, Catholics are doing the same thing in North and South America. But if we put our faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe and recognize her now as the Star of the New Evangelization, we can strengthen the Church and society — but only if we turn to her.
I am anxious to return to further discuss this notion with our students, faculty and staff at Benedictine. We need to ask ourselves what we can do to enhance the New Evangelization. As “The Flagship College of the New Evangelization” it is time to call upon Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Star of the New Evangelization, to help us and others have an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is through Mary that we can grow closer to Christ.
But the New Evangelization is not going to be easy. We need to be warriors for the faith. One of the Bishops from Peru was proud that their diocesan members now pray the St. Michael the Archangel prayer after their Masses —and I was proud to tell him that after our student Masses, our students hit their knees and pray the St. Michael the Archangel prayer and the Memorare.
After hearing about some of the challenges Church leaders are having with their parishioners and with the youth in their diocese, I was strengthened by what is happening at Benedictine College, where we have a student body on fire for their faith. And I know they will be anxious to take up the challenge of the New Evangelization. I am proud to be a Raven.
Tuesday, December 11
We began the day by hearing from each of the eight working groups. They summarized what they discussed. What I found was that there were some very sincere and caring people that love the Church and are desirous of calling on Our Lady of Guadalupe to strengthen it and support the New Evangelization.
During the conference I was joined by other Catholic college presidents. Receiving invitations from the Vatican and participating include Timothy O’Donnell of Christendom College, Mike McLean from Thomas Aquinas College in California, and Tom Keefe from University of Dallas. We were privileged to have been invited and feel an obligation to take the messages from this conference back to our campuses.
Two special events took place today. One was a lecture by Msgr. Chavez regarding the tilma that St. Juan Diego wore the day of the apparition, which bears the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The details of the image are amazing and I appreciated his passion regarding this topic. For example, the tilma is made of a material that should not have lasted this long. In fact, as far back as 1566, only 35 years from the apparition, scientists were indicating that the tilma should have disintegrated by then. Of course it has been with us now for almost 500 years. It has had acid poured on it and someone tried to destroy it with a bomb, which blew out the windows of the church where it was located, but did not harm the tilma. Further, studies have been done on the stars that appear on the cloak of Mary and it is determined that the stars make up the exact location of constellations of stars that were present at the exact time of the apparition in Mexico. It is really an amazing thing to behold after listening to Msgr. Chavez and makes me want to take a pilgrimage to Mexico to see it.
The conference organizers also took us on a pilgrimage of sorts to the monument dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican Gardens. Yes, I said the Vatican Gardens. If you would have told me this small town guy from Kansas would one day be allowed to walk around the Vatican Gardens, I would have told you were crazy. This just added to the overwhelming experience I was having.
On the way to the Guadalupe monument we stopped for a short time at the Grotto on the grounds of the Vatican dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. I was reminded of Mary’s Grotto on campus. Someone there told me that when she was an exchange student in Rome, she was allowed to visit the Garden and say the Rosary one Saturday with Pope John Paul II at the Grotto.
When we got to the Guadalupe monument, the entire group was led in a Rosary, which was beautiful. Two of the leaders of the Rosary are friends of the College — Bishop Conley, the new Bishop of Lincoln, and Curtis Martin, the President of FOCUS and father of three of our students. The Vatican Gardens were beautiful and the Rosary at the Guadalupe monument will be something I will never forget.
One of the other benefits of this conference is the incredible people I am getting to meet and spend time with. I am proud when I introduce myself and people smile and get excited because they have heard of the many great things happening at Benedictine College. The college has developed such a strong reputation that many people are noticing us and are complimentary. Some of the talented people that I was fortunate to meet include: Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; Greg Erlandson, President of Our Sunday Visitor, Jeanette DeMelo, the Editor of the National Catholic Register and Kathryn Jean Lopez a very talented writer for National Review Online. I was privileged to tag along with those folks, Dr. O’Donnell, Dr. McLean and Bishop Conley for dinner on Tuesday night — which was a special experience.
Wednesday, December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
It is a beautiful day in Rome. It has been cold every day, but when the sun is out, it is still spectacular. I began the day with Mass at the altar/tomb of St. Gregory the Great, the first Benedictine Pope and the namesake for the Gregorian Institute.
In the morning at 7:00am every day, priests say mass at the various altars in St. Peter’s. If you are ever traveling to Rome, you must take advantage of this experience. You can enter St. Peter’s at 7 am and go to almost any altar you choose and there will be a priest there and a server. The Mass is usually in Italian, however. But St. Peter’s is empty at this time in the morning, and you can really walk around and take it all in. This has been one of the real joys of this week, to see St. Peter’s in the morning without the crowds. It is magnificent.
There is a chapel in the basement of St. Peter’s, right next to the tomb of St. Peter dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. As you can imagine, it was very popular today. In fact, four Bishops from Latin countries celebrated mass there with many from our conference. I went to see the chapel and took a picture before their Mass started.
Because today is Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI had his weekly Audience. This marks the fourth time I saw the Pope this week. What a thrill it is to see him. The Audience, when it is cold, is inside the Pope Paul VI building–which is also where the Congress is held. Today, Pope Benedict send out his first tweet and I was there. His Twitter account is @pontifex and I am a follower. There was a lot of excitement when he sent his first tweet.
There were many Latinos present today as it is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and they, rightfully so, have a deep devotion of Our Lady. It was a very enjoyable Audience with the Pope and I was thankful for him to give a special blessing to me, my family and religious articles that I had with me, including my Rosary.
The Pope exchanged words with all the Cardinals and Bishops present, many of whom are at our conference. I was happy for my newfound friends Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Aquila, Bishop Conley, Bishop Olmsted and Archbishop Collins to personally visit with Pope Benedict XVI.
The last session in the afternoon was a wrap-up by Cardinal O’Malley of Boston and final words by Cardinal Ouellet. The emphasis was on the commitment of the Americas to become one. As Cardinal O’Malley said, we are all brothers — not necessarily twins, but all brothers under one Father. There was a clear desire to call upon Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us with the New Evangelization. A beautiful Mass ended the Congress.
The Congress was an amazing experience which I hope will ultimately inspire our students the way it inspired me. Our Lady of Guadalupe is truly the Star of the New Evangelization and we will need to call upon her to support us in our mission to evangelize the world. I feel truly blessed to have been invited to this conference and I hope their trust in inviting me will be sustained by our actions back home.
For now, I am disappointed I will have to give up “the key” and go home where no one, least of all my family, will salute me. But I’ll still have the Vatican experience to remember. Thank you all for your prayers and support during this week. God bless and Merry Christmas.