So rather than an entirely new post - I'll just edit this one.
While at home, we seemed very far from this Jubilee for Mercy. But here... MY GOODNESS - it is EVER present. Signs all over the city: "Rome for the Jubilee" - the Jubilee image (below) everywhere - CONSTANT crowds walking up a special pathway all the way up the Conciliazione to St. Peter's Square and through the Holy Door - and just about every weekend a different group celebrating the Jubilee. This weekend it was Military and Police and their families. And it was a FULL weekend.
It started on Friday with an all-day conference celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of the Apostolic Constitution "Spirituali Militia Curae" (which I cannot find online in English) which established in the Church the Military Ordinariates - making them Dioceses in their own right. For us in the United States, ours is the Archdiocese for Military Services - which encompasses every military installation in the world, all embassies and State Department facilities. So it really is a world-wide diocese.
The conference explained that there are various ways that different countries take care of the spiritual needs of their military members. Some military chaplains are appointed by the nation (some paid by the Church, others by the country); some chaplains have rank - others do not; some are actual members of the military, others are not and are merely provided by the local Diocese. In the United States, our chaplains are appointed by an "Endorsing Agency" as an official chaplain and we are truly members of the military paid as any other member of the military (or National Guard).
They told a bit of history of military chaplaincy: it's all about Evangelization. For the first 4 Centuries (after Christ) there were no military chaplains. But after the legalization of the Catholic faith in the 4th Century, the Church quickly recognized an order of chaplains and the need to minister to soldiers toward the end of peace.
This Jubilee of Mercy, and especially this moment of a Jubilee for military, is an experience of the New Evangelization so often spoken about by Pope Saint John Paul II. "The heart of God heals the misery of man; and man's heart, drawn close to God, is restored." This is a reality that military chaplains help people and soldiers to realize: experiencing God's heart which heals all human misery. Members of the military have a particular identity - certainly as a member of their particular nation and force (Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard) - but they also need that identification and identity as a member of the Church. This sense of belonging is important.
Mercy, we were reminded, is an encounter. In the military, this encounter is often with the suffering (for example with the many refugees fleeing their country). Who are the first ones these refugees encounter? The members of the military. It is important that we (military members) recognize our role in being this moment of "encounter" - sharing with those we encounter the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
So, these were some thoughts and things we heard during our day-long conference.
I spent the day with Bishop Richard Spencer, one of the Auxiliary Bishops for our AMS (Archdiocese for Military Services).
On Saturday was the special Jubilee Audience (Pope Francis has added a number of special Saturday audiences during this Jubilee Year) for members of the Military and police and their families. I had received a VIP ticket to sit up to the right of the Pope - up the steps in front of St. Peters. I arrived in what I thought was plenty of time... and it was... but I had to FIGHT through a CROWD of people to get to the right place. It always kind of amazes me how, we are all there to see the Pope - for a religious purpose - but we'll fight and push and shove in order to get to the spot we want (or get through security check-points - which were VERY present). In fact on Saturday morning I went for a run - when I returned to the apartment building I discovered that our building with within the first security checkpoint. Well, I had no ID on me or anything (since I was running). I had a little trouble getting back into the house after my run!
So, I finally managed to fight my way through the crowd, through security and up to the proper seating area. And here I just waited for the audience to begin. Oh, I did wear my uniform. I know that there were other members of our US military there - but they were not permitted to wear their uniforms for security purposes. I did wear mine since I was within that first security perimeter. I'm sure by now you have all heard that just this past Friday several ISIS members were arrested for planning an attack on the Vatican. So, security was VERY tight. Here are some photos from prior to the start of the audience. You can see all the different military members from many different countries. There were bands playing from above and just lots of military pomp and ceremony.
|And we thought our Air Force flight caps are silly looking...|
And it was also the feast day of Pope Saint Pius V - so I noted that they had his relics out on the Piazza...
And I also met a group of Sisters who live here in Rome (but are from Miami) whose ministry is to pray for the members of the military.
So, after our wait, the Holy Father arrived...
|Bishop Spencer - Auxiliary of the Military Archdiocese|
|And here I am with the Sisters who pray for us in the Military. We had a good conversation...|
When the audience was over, the Holy Father begin greeting the Bishops as usual - then moved to the defense ministers in the VIP section... then he went to the "rope line" where we were - he came right down the row until he finally got right in front of me. I wanted to say something, but was speechless... So I just stood there like a fool with my hand out... He grasped my hand, and continued on down the line. Next time, I'll say something!
I purchased some pictures from the Vatican newspaper which won't have the writing over them... They are coming soon...
Sunday was the Mass for military, police and their families. It was NOT celebrated by Pope Francis, but by Cardinal Parolin - the Secretary of State for the Vatican.
Following the Mass we all went outside into the Square for the 12noon Angelus (or, during Easter, the Regina Caeli). And with that, the Jubilee for Military ended.
One thing I didn't mention - Saturday afternoon Bishop Spencer and I went up to the NAC where a large group of men from all over Europe (all military) had come to Rome for the Jubilee, but also to become 4th Degree members of the Knights of Columbus. Here's a photo of the group.