Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, May 27, 2018

yfp_Rome-crowdPope Benedict XVI greets priests at the end of a Mass concluding the Year for Priests on June 11. (CMS photo/Paul Haring)

BLOOMFIELD – Seven priests from the Archdiocese of Hartford and at least two order priests from Connecticut were among the 15,000 priests concelebrating, with Pope Benedict XVI, the Mass in St. Peter’s Square that closed the Year for Priests on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 11.

Msgr. Gerard G. Schmitz, vicar for priests, recalled the experience as one of the highlights of his priesthood.

"It was a very moving experience to be with all those priests," he told the Transcript after his six-day stay in Rome that ended June 12. "The city of Rome, everywhere you looked there were priests, and there was a great feeling of solidarity, a great feeling of camaraderie."

At that Mass, the Pope said that the Year for Priests might have been ruined by the clerical sex abuse scandal, but instead became a "summons to purification" in the Church. He said that "the enemy," Satan, wants to drive God out of the world and opposes those who work to ensure that God is at the side of every man and woman, especially in times of trouble.

The Pope said the Catholic Church begs forgiveness from God and "from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again."

While some secular critics have said the apology was too little too late, Msgr. Schmitz saw it as a positive step. "I believe the Holy Father made a sincere effort to recognize the wrong that was done and to apologize for it," he said.

Other archdiocesan priests in Rome for the occasion were Father Joseph Devine, Pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish in Hartford; Father Joseph DiSciacca, minister for priests and Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bristol; Father Zacarias Pushpanathan, administrator of St. Anne-Immaculate Conception Parish in Hartford; Father Gregory M. Altermatt, chaplain of the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven; Father James George, co-pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Watertown; and Father John J. Bevins, Pastor of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury. Dominican Father Juan-Diego Brunetta, Prior of St. Mary Priory in New Haven; and Legionaries of Christ Father Walter Schu of Cheshire, also attended.

Msgr. Schmitz did not know until later that with so many priests vested for Mass and reciting together the key words of the eucharistic prayer, they made up what the Vatican said was the largest concelebration of any Mass ever held at the Vatican. "It was great to be a part of that historical moment in the Church," he said.

The Year for Priests coincided with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. At the closing Mass, the vicar for priests said, the Pope proclaimed St. John Vianney to be the patron saint of all priests. During the liturgy, Pope Benedict used a chalice that belonged to the saint and that was brought to Rome from his former parish in Ars, France.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Benedict knelt before an icon of Mary and led the priests in consecrating themselves to her "maternal heart in order to carry out faithfully the Father’s will."

Asking her intervention in calling forth the Holy Spirit to transform them, they prayed that the Church would be renewed by priests who are holy.

"Let your presence cause new blooms to burst forth in the desert of our loneliness," they prayed. "Let it cause the sun to shine on our darkness; let it restore calm after the tempest, so that all mankind shall see the salvation of the Lord."

Msgr. Schmitz’s days in Rome were filled with activity. "On Wednesday [June 9], we went to the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square. It was a blistering hot day and [there was] the usual large crowd. The Holy Father spoke primarily about his trip to Cyprus," he said.

The next morning, Msgr. Schmitz and about 4,000 other priests went to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where services were telecast to the thousands of other priests at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. "They even gave us color-coded sun hats to indicate which church to go to," he said.

"Thursday night, there was a moving vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, with beautiful musical interludes. The evening was cool, a beautiful Roman evening, a nice cool breeze blowing through St. Peter’s Square," he said.

At about 9:30 p.m., the Holy Father arrived, riding around the square to cheers from about 10,000 priests, Msgr. Schmitz recalled. The vigil ended at about 11:15 with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. Despite the huge crowd, he said, he didn’t hear a sound during the exposition.

Msgr. Schmitz stayed at North American College and met with John Casey from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Waterbury, who is finishing his first year of seminary studies in Rome. Mr. Casey helped Msgr. Schmitz negotiate the streets of Rome as well as the cab fare.

The whole experience "really energized me," he said. "It gave me a sense of being part of this worldwide body of men who serve the Lord. We come from many different ethnic backgrounds, many different traditions, many different racial backgrounds, and yet all have the same mission. It was just an electrifying atmosphere."

As vicar for priests, Msgr. Schmitz said, he believes the Archdiocese has a strong corps of priests.

"In the Year for Priests, we had a number of programs that highlighted our role as priests. We tried to build on these programs" with two days of prayer, one in Advent and one in Lent, he said. "Of course, I can’t leave out the great support Archbishop [Henry J.] Mansell gives us. He is constantly reassuring us and thanking us for the work that we do for people of God," he said.

(A CNS report was included in this story.)