United in faith and the memory of John Paul II


John Paul II Beatification Mass News Story
St Peter's Square in Rome was filled to overflowing as more than one million people took part in the Beatification Mass of John Paul II. AFP PHOTO/ALBERTO PIZZOLI

Fr Chris Dixon, Parish Priest of St Madeleine Sophie Barat Kenthurst, was in Rome representing the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta at the Beatification of John Paul II. Below is Fr Chris's report on the Mass of Beatification on Sunday 1 May, as well as from the Vigil at Circus Maximus on Saturday 30 April.

The Mass of Beatification

Well, what a day I've had. It started with my alarm ringing at 4am. I quickly set out, and found the street already crowded with pilgrim groups making their way to St Peter's Square.

Still a block away from the Via Conciliazione (the main avenue leading up to the Square from the River Tiber), we waited for nearly an hour while pilgrims were allowed entry to the avenue from the bridge, Ponte Vitorio Emmanuele II.

They eventually allowed us down to the avenue, although it took another hour to inch forward to about 20 metres short of the Square. I thought 'this is about as close as I'll get'.

At this stage I met three Missionaries of St Francis de Sales priests from India, the same order as St Andrew’s Parish Marayong Assistant Priest Fr Clifford De Souza. They wanted to know all about Fr Clifford and expect to welcome him to Rome later in the year. They predicted correctly that we would eventually be allowed into the Square - we were roughly towards the centre right position, slightly back from 'midfield'.

We didn't have to wait long for proceedings to start with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy broadcast over the excellent sound system. Then there was all the pomp and circumstance as officials, dignitaries and Cardinals took their places.

His Holiness then arrived riding in an open car, with the crowd chanting 'Ben-e-deto', accompanied by musical clapping. In a way this energised the crowd and the sense of excitement increased.

The Mass was superb. After the greeting, the Pope read the pronouncement acclaiming Pope John Paul II 'Blessed'. Such a seemingly simple act, to which the crowd responded with five minutes of sustained clapping. It was a very moving part of the ceremony.

In his Homily, the Holy Father spoke of his first memories of the then Bishop Karol Józef Wojtyła as a man of deep faith. As a pope who had attended all sessions of the Second Vatican Council, he was able to direct the future of the Church. He recalled the first Mass of the new Pope John Paul II, where he called on all Christians: 'Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!'. It was a task, of course, that John Paul II was the first to fulfill.

The Mass finished at around 12:30pm. I was exhausted, so farewelled my new Indian friends and headed home. It had become very hot and the streets were crowded and people were handing out apples, oranges and water to the returning pilgrims. I showered and had siesta before heading out onto the streets again. It was still the same crowds: still no traffic and still more fruit and drinks.

I wandered back to the Basilica where there was a long queue about 20 people wide waiting to enter St Peter's and venerate the body of the newly Blessed John Paul II.

Others were standing around talking of the experience. I met Rafaela, a doctor who had once worked at Concord Repatriation General Hospital before moving to Rome. She said that she loved the way John Paul II shared the story of his illness and opened the door for all to respect people who are sick. Others shared their love for the man who gave hope to ordinary people, especially young people.

It was a wonderful experience to be part of such a huge crowd united in faith and celebrating the memory of a great man.

To me, Blessed John Paul II's greatness lies in his insistence on the dignity of every member of humanity loved by God and ennobled by the Redeemer Jesus Christ in his stance against Communism.


Fr Chris Dixon Report from Rome News Story
The portrait of John Paul II hanging in St Peter's Square in the days before the Beatification Mass.
I spent the Friday getting to know Rome once again and spent a couple of hours in the evening in my favourite place in Rome, the Piazza Navona.

There was lots of free entertainment and also a piano recital in the church of St Agnes in Agone by Luigi Fracasso. Many churches were holding cultural events in the run up to the beatification on Sunday.

Saturday was cold and wet. It dried up for the vigil with just the occasional drizzle. The vigil was long, starting at 8pm and finished well after 11pm. It was held in the Circus Maximus which is one of the largest public spaces in Rome.

I arrived around 6pm and had a reasonably good spot near the front. We were entertained with documentaries on the life of John Paul II in the run up to start time. We then sang a hymn in English...and that was the last we heard that language.

An MC spoke for about half an hour before interviewing a couple of people, including the nun who had been cured after interceding with the soul of the former Pope.

Then former secretary of  John Paul II, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, spoke rather movingly about the Pope.

At this stage the crowd was rather restless and taking the occasion into their own hands. Only the Italians were able to follow what the conversations were all about and there was a buzz as people entered into their own conversations.

I befriended Sr Mary, a Carmelite nun from Lincoln in England, who spoke of Divine Mercy and Sr Faustina. Then a Portuguese man in front of us used his mobile phone to tune into the English station of Vatican Radio and gave Sr Mary the earphones so that she could listen.

During the Cardinal's talk, she gave me one of the ear pieces so I could hear the translation. He said that he had only ever seen John Paul II angry twice: once over the Mafia and the second over the start of the war in Afghanistan.

Finally the Rosary started at about 10:15pm. We said the Luminous mysteries. This was done well with each Hail Mary said by a child or young adult in their own language while the crowd replied in Latin. Between each decade there were prayers and a song followed by video of Pope John Paul II introducing the next mystery.

I was impressed by the number of young people at the vigil. Lots of Spanish and Croatians, and many from south America, Africa and the Philippines.

Their devotion to Pope John Paul II is vigorous and inspiring.

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