We’re overdue for an update, but it’s been pretty busy. So, rather than wait until I can give “all the details,” here’s some!
1. For several days leading up to the Beatification of John Paul II, there really weren’t many people out of the ordinary here in Rome and I was beginning to wonder if there would be a disappointing turnout. Then, on the Saturday before the Sunday Beatification, crowds began to arrive. Fr. Jonathan Morris, our nephew, who was here to cover the event for Fox News, and Anne and I walked down to St. Peter’s Square early Saturday evening and had trouble getting across it to the other side. Fr. Jonathan stayed in the Piazza to do some commentary for Fox, and Anne and I continued to a nearby restaurant where we met Archbishop Thomas Collins from Toronto, who is the Episcopal Advisor to Renewal Ministries in Canada. We had a wonderful time together and were able to talk in-depth about many things. He is a good friend to us and we should support him in prayer in his heavy responsibilities and challenges. He is part of the Vatican-appointed team that is assisting the Church in Ireland to recover from the recent scandals there. After dinner, we discovered that the entire Piazza and the broad avenue leading up to St. Peter’s had been cleared for security reasons and we couldn’t get across it to the other side, which we needed to do to get back to our apartment. Also, huge crowds, many waving red and white Polish flags, were flooding in by bus, train and plane and converging on the area, but since they weren’t being allowed into St. Peter’s Square, they were backing up to the river and beyond and the bridges were getting clogged. The only way we could get to the other side had now been filled by thousands of pilgrims who had brought sleeping mats and were lying down on the sidewalks and streets, literally hip to hip, including nuns in full habit, older people, teenagers, etc. The police told us the only way we could get back to our apartment would be to walk entirely around Vatican City State – which Anne didn’t want to do – or simply pick our way through the dense “sea of humanity.” I was intimidated, not hardly seeing a little space between people where I could even put one foot, but Anne was determined and launched into the crowd and managed, with some difficulty and with me following, to find a path through the sleeping bodies, to the river where we could manage to walk more normally and find our way home. The next morning, people from our apartment complex came back at 6:30 in the morning of the day of the Beatification telling us that the police had closed St. Peter’s Square and that the Via Della Conciliazione and the bridges were jammed again. Since they were getting crushed, they decided to come back and watch it on TV! We decided to try to go anyway but could only get a few hundred yards away from the sides of the colonnades. We couldn’t see or hear anything, so we returned to our apartment to watch it on TV and saw Fr. Jonathan do a good job commenting on it on the TV. We went back that day several times to try to pass by the casket of Blessed John Paul II inside St. Peter’s, but each time, after waiting for long times with the vast lines hardly moving, we decided to return another day. A million and a half pilgrims is a lot! Even though we didn’t get very close, it was inspiring. When the tapestry with the portrait of John Paul II was unveiled during the ceremony, I think tears came to many an eye, including ours. John Paul II, thank you! And pray for us as we continue to participate in your ongoing mission of renewal and evangelization!
2. Anne and I spent five days in Medjugorje over the Holy Week and Easter Sunday. (While “official” diocesan pilgrimagaes are not allowed, unofficial pilgrimages and visits are allowed. Even though the local bishop has been in a conflict with the Franciscans there for historical reasons, the Vatican has now appointed its own commission to look into the apparitions, taking it out of the hands of the local bishop).We were guests of Sr. Emmanuel – some of you may remember her inspiring TV programs that she did for The Choices We Face some years ago – at her house there, which looks right out unto “Cross Mountain” and “Apparition Mountain.” (I won’t attempt the Croatian spellings!) She’s a very holy woman, completely given to doing God’s will and serving the mission of Mary. Every meal time conversation was like a little retreat as she told story after story of marvelous workings of grace in people’s lives and God’s providential care, oftentimes through St. Joseph or Mary, for her. She arranged for us to be present for the daily apparition of Maria Lunetti (the married last name of one of the visionaries) and I was touched and impressed as I was when I saw the first video that Bobby Cavnar did almost 30 years ago of the children when they were first experiencing Mary’s visits. I don’t think there’s any way that she (or they) could have faked the rapt focus – no blinking – for the several minutes that I observed. She also seemed very normal, human, and kind – not weird in any way. The village was swarming with people. The lines for confession were extremely long and there were people of all ages there: many young people, couples, families, and more Italian men that I had seen in many a Mass here in Italy. Whatever the final evaluation may be – and it may be years before such a judgment is possible – there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is pouring out great graces through Mary at her “special places” around the world, including Medjugorje.
3. Speaking of Bobby Cavnar! Anne and I attended the dedication of the new offices of the Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities which, along with ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services – the organization that we were involved in starting in Ann Arbor, that we then moved to Belgium, and now is in Rome), has been invited to have their offices right in the Palazzo San Callisto, where the Vatican has many of their offices, including Cardinal Turkson’s office for the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, and where the Pontifical Council for the Laity is also located. From a basement in Ann Arbor to being in the “house of the Pope,” as one of the officials present said, is a pretty amazing journey! Anyway, a wall bas-relief of Bobby Cavnar and Brian Smith (from Australia), whom many of us knew, was unveiled since they are the deceased founders of the Catholic Fraternity. It’s a funny feeling to see friends with whom one had fun meals with lots of jokes getting honored in this way! Jim Cavnar, whom many of us know again and who is member of Renewal Ministries Canadian Board, was there and we were able to have dinner with him afterwards. The renewal is being accepted into the heart of the Church in a way that we could never have imagined in the “early days.”
4. The dissertation. My dissertation Moderator has been gone for several weeks over the last month and hasn’t been able to read and comment on the last chapters I’ve sent him. He is back now and has promised to do all he can to get me his final comments by Monday, May 9. After that, I’ll implement the changes, get three copies printed up and bound, and deliver them to the Dean. At this point, he’ll appoint a second reader to review and comment on the dissertation. After that, a date for my public defense of the dissertation will be set. With all the delays and the unpredictability of when the second reader will be appointed and how long it will take him to read it and comment, etc., it will take some special grace to be finished with all that before our June 16th return ticket. So, if you can pray that all these steps can happen speedily and according to God’s plan, I would appreciate it.
We’re ready to finish and come home although almost every day brings providential encounters. Monday night it was dinner with a Jesuit professor at the Gregorian whom I cite in my dissertation – very worthwhile. Tuesday night it was dinner with some major donors to Renewal Ministries, who were in town with the Papal Foundation. Tonight we’re having over for dinner – Anne is cooking now – the international leaders of the Emmanuel Community. Cris and Jane Sameniego, Anne’s sister and brother-in-law, are arriving on Friday for a visit. Stephen Mierendorf, a young man from Ann Arbor who is working with the NET teams in Ireland, left this morning to go back to Ireland after sleeping on our couch for the last week. And just today, we had lunch with another Cardinal…
Anne and I miss our home in Ann Arbor but know we are where we’re supposed to be and are amazed at what each day brings. Thank you for your prayers and for your giving, which are keeping the good ship Renewal Ministries moving forward steadily through the waves!