Bishop Banks' Corner|
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
Central part of the Eternal City
Diocesan pilgrimage to Rome gives a real sense of the unity of our faith
By Bishop Robert Banks
"This is a pilgrimage, not a vacation. On a pilgrimage, there is no complaining."
That was the understanding and commitment of the almost 200 pilgrims who took off for Rome two weeks ago on five different flights.
The commitment was quickly put to a test for the 16 pilgrims who were traveling with
me. After our hour's flight to Detroit, we learned that the next flight to Newark was
cancelled. Then we found out that there was no possibility of getting all our people on a
flight to Rome for almost two days. To top that off, the airline put us up at a motel that
will be long remembered, but not for the luxury accommodations. The result of all this
was that a dozen broken-hearted pilgrims had to return to Green Bay rather than continue
I was more than impressed by the spirit in which the disappointed pilgrims put up with all
the aggravation. The Lord undoubtedly gave them double credit for the pilgrimage, even
though they never made it to Rome.
There was one seat available the next day, and everyone agreed that I should be the one to
get to Rome. The whole pilgrimage schedule was built around the Masses that I would be
celebrating at the various basilicas.
So I joined the pilgrims in Rome just in time to be at St. Peter's for the Pope's noonday
blessing on Sunday. After the blessing, we headed over to St. Mary Major Basilica for
Mass. It was impressive to see all our Green Bay pilgrims filling the large chapel where
the Romans keep the picture of Mary that is the most important for them.
On Monday, we went to the American church in Rome, St. Susanna's, for what was one
of the highlights of the pilgrimage. The rector of the church laid out for us the fascinating
history of the church. While the present building is only several centuries old, there has
been a church on that spot since the year 280. The location marked the home of the
martyr, Susanna. Mass was probably celebrated there even before 280 since the early
Christians had to gather in homes for Mass. They were not allowed to have churches then.
Directly below today's altar, they have uncovered the floor of the kitchen and dining
room where Mass was most likely celebrated and where Susanna and her family probably
discussed their decision to die for the Faith.
We then had an opportunity for everyone to go to Confession and that was followed with
Next came the only incident in the pilgrimage that might have violated the commitment
not to complain.
After Mass, a dozen or so of us, mostly diocesan staff members and spouses, gathered for
lunch at a local restaurant. The lunch took longer than expected so we missed out on the
guided walking tour scheduled for that afternoon. I graciously offered to act as guide for
the group and I led them to all the places they would otherwise have missed, even adding
a stop at my alma mater, the old North American College. In return for this kindness, the
group thereafter referred to the tour as a "forced march," just because the pace was a little
faster than they liked.
Tuesday was a free day, and most of the group headed for Assisi where Fr. Mark
VanderSteeg, who had just completed his graduate studies in Rome and Jerusalem,
On Wednesday, we had Mass together at a local church and then headed to St. Peter's
Square for the audience with Pope John Paul II. Our group had an excellent location for
the audience and four of our group were among those who had an opportunity to greet the
Thursday morning we were privileged to celebrate Mass together at the Altar of the Chair
in St. Peter's Basilica. It was a special moment for me since it was at that altar that I
celebrated my first Mass after Ordination some 47 years ago. Msgr. Frank Dewane, our
diocesan priest who works in Rome for the Holy See, helped to arrange that Mass and all
the others throughout our stay.
In the afternoon, we visited St. Paul's Basilica and were given a prayerful tour of one of
the catacombs by a "retired" Salesian priest from the United States. Then it was off to a
restaurant so our entire group could have a final and thank-filled celebration of a great
I think all who were with us for the week would agree that they were truly on a pilgrimage and not just a tour of Rome. The Mass each day was central; the passage through the Holy Door at each of the basilica's was a special spiritual moment; prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation kept us mindful of what we were about; and there was a real spirit of friendliness and helpfulness among the pilgrims.
And Rome is a good place for a pilgrimage. Not only is it where Ss. Peter and Paul gave their lives for the Faith, it is also where so many other saints and martyrs lived and died. As one of the pilgrims mentioned to me, you come away with a vivid sense of the history of the Church, of how many Christians over the centuries gave their lives for the Faith.
You also get a better sense of the universality of the Church. On the same day that we celebrated Mass at St. Peter's, there was just ahead of us a bishop and several priests from Angola in Africa. In every basilica, the confessionals had signs indicating the several languages in which confession could be heard. At the audience with the Pope, I sat next to a bishop from Japan and earlier had chatted with a bishop from Ireland.
And, of course, Rome is where the present Successor of St. Peter carries on so courageously his special ministry of "presiding over the Church in love."