Everyone loves Pope Francis and I count myself really lucky to have been able to meet him when visiting Rome for the Jubilee for Catechists. Usually one of the last to register for events, I broke the habit of a life time and registered to attend the Jubilee for Catechists as soon as I learnt of it. It was listed as one of the latter events to be hosted by the Vatican during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, and I headed to Rome on Friday 23rd September 2016 for the start of the event. I was already feeling very blessed, having received the email that invited me to be one of those to come forward at the end of mass to briefly greet Pope Francis. A catechist for some 14 years, this was the best invitation I had ever received. On Friday evening I joined the English speaking group in the Church of St John the Baptist of the Florentines. The focus was a guided reflection on the theme ‘Miserando atque eligendo’ and the painting by Caravaggio The Call of Matthew. The words ‘Miserando atque eligendo’ are taken from a homily given on the feast of Saint Matthew by the Venerable Bede. They have been the motto of the Holy Father from the time he was consecrated a bishop, he felt the words were true of him: by having mercy and by choosing him.
The reflection was led by Monsignor Bell From Scotland who considered different aspects of the painting: the contrast between the dark and light, the pointing finger calling to Matthew and the different callings to holiness and vocations. It was interesting to get some background on the painting, but I was also fortunate to have the time to visit the French church of St Luigi on Sunday afternoon and spend unlimited time at the chapel containing The Call of St Matthew. Even the tour groups weren’t a distraction as they had restricted time for taking their photos, and soon moved on.
- A reflection on the painting would make a good session for both catechists and catechumens. The diverse group of figures show a variety of responses to the call from Jesus: all ages and of different dispositions. I was certainly inspired to draft a powerpoint presentation on the call to be a catechist.
In the same chapel are two other paintings by Caravaggio, and I thought St Matthew and the Angel is a good example of how spiritual support is given: something needed by all involved in RCIA. Though perhaps the rather graphic painting of The Martyrdom of St Matthew the third painting may be left for later, as an example of what sticking to one’s faith may ultimately lead to!
Attending the Jubilee offered an opportunity to obtain a plenary indulgence and to look up again the conditions and specific aspects of the Jubilee year. The gift of the Indulgence might be something that could be discussed and shared with our new Catholics during the period of Mystagogy
- Go to confession and be in a state of grace;
- Go to mass and receive Holy Eucharist,
- Pray for the intentions of the Pope
For the Jubilee, additionally:-
- Make a pious pilgrimage to a jubilee shrine or place
- Do works of mercy or charity.
- Act of penance for one day- fast, abstain from meat, or give money to the poor.
Saturday was a full and spiritual day with reconciliation, and a slow pilgrimage walk from Castel Sant’ Angelo to the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica. This involved a passage of reflection on Saints and Holy people with a quote re catechesis.
The final prayers were said at the tomb of St Peter inside the Basilica. It was then time to get the metro over to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, and enter through another Holy Door for the session of all those attending the Catechists Jubilee. Here we listened to four testimonies.
- The father from Mozambique, who was initially reluctant to become a catechist. He was kidnapped with his family by guerillas, held captive with his baby son, until he managed to escape after thirty days. Throughout, he said he never thought of giving up being a catechist. Being a catechist ‘is this: to say yes, always, in the easy times and in the difficult times.’*
- The new catholic, baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2015. She spoke about her journey of enquiry and in the catechumenate. How she felt the need to move to a different parish, because ‘the catechumenate meetings were terribly boring.’ She also spoke of the need for those leading the catechumenate to remember the digital age. She commented how the majority of converts are aged 20 to 35 and they have grown up in the digital age.*
- The blind deaf priest, introduced via his female interpreter, and spoke of discrimination experienced because of his disability, and how he would be denied the chance to concelebrate mass. His disability gives him the chance to spread a message of hope to those others who suffer a disability.*
- The Peruvian father now living in Rome spoke of his vocation as a parish catechist. He spoke of the need for individuals to be aware of their own human weakness in their work with others. That the call to communal service means that catechists must first have felt they ‘have been served by the One who came to Serve.’ It is only after being served that we can then serve others. He also spoke of the need for silence and for contemplation.*
The Jubilee concluded with Holy Mass on Sunday morning celebrated on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Pope Francis, though even with the right coloured pass, one still has to get through security and allowed past by the Swiss Guard. Surrounded by clergy, bishops and cardinals on one side of the altar and laity (including myself) on the other it is an amazing sight looking out on crowds from around the world. It really does feel like the Universal Church. Sitting in his chair on the top of the steps of St Peter’s, the Holy Father presided over mass with authority and a dignity which helped encourage the crowds to respect his calls for silence during the mass. The Pope made a point of specifically asking for silence following the Prayers for the Faithful and the invitation to pray for our own intentions, and following the communion hymn. A silence well received. How often do we celebrate mass that is full of words and music, but with little time for pure silence? A lesson perhaps from the Holy Father in good liturgical practice. Then with the conclusion of mass the panic sets in. What do I do, what do I say? As I joined the line with one or two representatives from each country present for this Jubilee celebration, I had all sorts of thoughts, but with the moment before me all I could think of was to say I was from the RCIA Network of England and Wales and clarified by adding ‘the catechumenate’. And what do I remember: that our pope has the most amazing blue eyes and brilliant smile, and that I must learn Italian for the next time….