Jubilee of Mercy: Couples travel to Rome for Jubilee for Deacons
By Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez
Early during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invited all the deacons from around the world to come on pilgrimage to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica May 27-29.
Ten deacons and their wives from the Austin Diocese along with several deacons and their wives from other dioceses traveled to Rome. We joined thousands of deacons with their spouses and families responding to the pope’s invitation.
We arrived in Rome on a Thursday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ where we saw and heard Pope Francis “live” for the first time. He writes in Misericordiae Vultus, “Groups of pilgrims...often experience grace-filled moments” (3). Without a doubt to see him in person 50 yards away and receive benediction with the Blessed Sacrament was a moment filled with awe, admiration and joy. This single event alone was enough to return home at peace for my eyes had seen the beauty of the Lord. The Corpus Christi Procession traveled from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major through a street called Via Merulana where thousands of pilgrims carried candles. During Mass Pope Francis stated, “May this action of the Eucharistic procession ... break open our faith and our lives as a sign of Christ’s love for this city and for the whole world.”
We visited the Vatican Museum where we entered the famous Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. Again for a small-town Texas boy this was beyond my wildest dreams or imagination to see such beautiful art, relics and sacred places.
The Jubilee for Deacons began at the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where St. Catherine of Siena is buried. At her tomb, I knelt and asked for a special grace because she is a powerful intercessor. The theme for this day was “The Deacon: Image of Mercy For the Promotion of the New Evangelization.” The first speaker was Deacon James Keating from the U.S., who spoke about how the indelible mark or seal from Holy Orders creates a wound in the soul which the deacon must keep open and supple through prayer and a deep spiritual life in order to truly live out his call to holiness. Deacon Anthony Schmitz from the Australia and Deacon Greg Kendra from the U.S. also spoke about the New Evangelization.
On Saturday, Day 2 of the Jubilee for Deacons, the pilgrimage from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica began. Castel Sant’Angelo was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and in the 14th century it was converted into a papal residence. This was also the site where St. Michael the Archangel appeared and put an end to the plague in the year 590.
The pilgrimage provided a wooden cross to carry along with a worship aid to pray as we passed churches and ancient sites. It was probably one of the most touching experiences since we were given priority over all the thousands of visitors at the Vatican and made to feel special when the Vatican guards parted crowds for us to pass straight through the Holy Door and to the tomb of St. Peter. After this we attended Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the St. Joseph’s Chapel.
The entire pilgrimage reminded me of what Pope Francis writes in “Misericordiae Vultus,” “The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination” (14). After Mass we went to one of three churches in Rome where confession and adoration was held for approximately 2,000 deacons from around the world. We then headed back to the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva where we heard inspirational words by Cardinal Peter Turkson on “The Deacon: Called to be a Dispenser of Charity in the Christian Community.”
On the final day of the Jubilee for Deacons, we vested for Mass with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square. We were even given a free commemorative stole with the Jubilee of Mercy logo that reads “Merciful like the Father.”
We sat approximately 40 yards from Pope Francis and after Mass he came within 10 yards of us when he was shaking hands with the deacons in the front row. What affected me most is how prayerful and reverent he was during Mass and all the grace-filled periods of silence, such as the elevation at the consecration which lasted about 7 seconds. Throughout the Mass, I felt a real connection with him but especially when he said, “Yet each of us needs first to be healed inwardly. To be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart: a heart healed by God, one which knows forgiveness and is neither closed nor hardened. We would do well each day to pray trustingly for this, asking to be healed by Jesus, to grow more like him…”
After Mass we reflected on this life- changing encounter. Our 10-day pilgrimage continued to the Catacombs, the Coliseum, Florence, Assisi and Venice for more holy sites, incredible treasures and ancient wonders but my heart remained in Rome close to our beloved Holy Father!
Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez serves as the associate director of Diaconal Ministry for the Diocese of Austin.