What a Way to End A Sabbatical
by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 5 yrs ago
My life as the father of 11 children has left me with an abnormally high tolerance for chaos. But nothing could prepare me or our Roncalli delegation for what was about to unfold. There we were. In the heart of Rome. Less than a mile from St. Peter’s Square. Standing - being crushed actually - shoulder to shoulder with a million or more other pilgrims who had come to celebrate the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul. Two of the most compelling leaders of the 20th Century. Two gracious gifts from God to all of us who long for truth, peace, justice and love to prevail throughout the world. The animated conversations in languages from across the globe were growing with excitement and volume as the event got closer. Flags of every color – especially the red and white flags of Poland – were continually waving on a beautiful spring evening that slowly turned into the dawn of a new morning. Spontaneous outbreaks of joyous song and chanting kept occurring throughout the night. It was unlike anything I have ever been a part of, and I don’t expect to be witness to it again in my lifetime.
As fate would have it, the canonization was scheduled to begin within a few hours of the time when we would be hosting our celebration of Rebelation back at Roncalli. This is an annual gathering of over 400 friends and supporters of our financial aid program that allows students from families in need to receive assistance to attend our school. We devised what we thought was a crafty plan to have our delegation of four students and four adults to report live from St. Peter’s Square to the crowd in our gym via Skype. It was a well-laid plan. Its only flaw was that it did not account for the crowds and the chaotic excitement in the streets of Rome that night. It was not a violent chaos. The people were all very gentle and cooperative. It was simply the enormous size of the crowd and their vibrant enthusiasm that overwhelmed everything.
The first Skype call to our gym lasted about 30 seconds before it disconnected. The next one lasted about 10 seconds and the final one lasted about 5 seconds. People who were in the gym that night later told me how exciting it was to have a live connection to Rome that evening in spite of the bad connection. It made them feel like they were a part of this celebration on the other side of the world. There is a part of me that appreciated that we had such difficulty maintaining a good connection. A smooth Skype connection would have concealed the frenetic happenings that were the reality for those who were there on the streets of Rome that night. Things were not operating normally. The Catholic Church from around the world was celebrating two of its greatest heroes and celebrations do not always unfold according to script. But God was there – watching over all of us.
When Mass finally began 12 hours after we had first joined the throngs who were gathering, the excitement that was generated by the appearance of the Holy Father was thick enough to cut with a knife. I expect this man may someday be declared a saint as well. Only the second coming of Jesus Christ himself could have generated the sort of spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm and joy that the presence of Pope Francis gave us all that morning. The crowd roared when early in the liturgy he officially declared these two men saints.
The Holy Spirit was present in a special way throughout the city that day. There was a palpable sense of love and grace throughout Rome that lasted on into that evening. Though I was exhausted physically and emotionally when it was over none of our delegation could sleep. We walked the streets of Rome that night reliving our own unique adventures as we tried to share with each other our own reflections on what we had just seen and been a part of. In its own way the joy, love and grace that we all felt must have been a small glimpse of Heaven that we had been allowed to see.
It is so good to be back because there is also a glimpse of heaven everyday at Roncalli if you learn how to see it. In fact, it is when things seem most chaotic that I am most likely to see it. Come Holy Spirit!