Saturday, September 23, 2017

Day 18 of the General Chapter

Lauds together was at 7:00. Our four Buses pushed off around 8:00. There were about 160 of us. We reached Rome around 11:00. Our buses parked a few blocks away from St. Peter’s, so we had to walk the rest of the way. It was a bit of a sight to see such a long line of “penguins”. The situation seemed a bit chaotic when we got to St. Peter’s Square because of all the people and the barriers, but then things became organized and we were all being herded in the right direction. We then passed through security – the same as in any airport. That took a while, since there were so many of us. Then we were on the move again and wending our way through all kinds of passages and stairs in the Vatican that most people never see. 

The audience took place in a room (Sala Clementina) that was just right for our group. Everyone was sitting, except for some short people in the back. Pope Francis was sitting up front with a bishop on either side. You could see the excitement on our faces as you looked around. Dom Eamon, our Abbot General, went up front where there was a microphone and gave an address in Italian. Then the Pope read a presentation in Italian. We all thought that was going to be the extent of it, but then the ushers started motioning for us to come up and greet the Pope personally. Professional photographers were in place and clicking away as we filed by and either kissed Francis’ ring or clasped his hand. The flow was pretty well-organized, so they were able to knock out 160 people in a relatively short amount of time. We were looking at each other like, “Is this really happening?” When it was my turn, I was feeling a bit like Forest Gump. At the end, they put a chair for the Pope in the midst of us and they took group shots. Then the Pope left the room, waving and smiling. I hear we will be able to order the pictures on the website of L’Osservatore Romano. 

Then all of our black and white habits flowed through the Vatican passageways again and ended up in St. Peter’s Church. A large portion of it had been reserved for us. Those of us priests who had brought albs and stoles along vested and lined up. The rest filled in the pews. We priests then took our positions behind the main altar. Our Father General, Dom Eamon, then processed in with two assistants. One was our retired Abbot General, Dom Bernardo Olivera, the current abbot of Azul in Argentina. The other was Br. Ruben, also from Azul. He is a transitional deacon, so he functioned as deacon during the whole Mass and read the Gospel in English. Most of the Mass was in English because Dom Eamon is from Ireland. Br. Ruben must have had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He grew up on a ranch in Argentina and was a gaucho. That’s what he did after he entered the monastery, too. His hard-working hands are a testimony to it. But then his Abbot decided to make him novice master. It is said, he went from taking care of the bulls, to taking care of the novices. 

Meanwhile, we were being accompanied on the main organ of St. Peter’s by Dom Richard of Mt. Melleray in Ireland. Born in 1976, he may be our youngest superior. And here he was, having a very memorable day indeed. With him, with flutes, were Mother Maria Gratia, of Maria Frieden in Germany, and Sr. Annie of Laval in France. What a great experience it was for all of us. From what I heard, it’s not very often that they allow a group to say Mass there. 

Afterwards, we filed out through St. Peter’s Square to a pre-arranged place where a car was waiting for us with our packed lunches. We sat on a curb in a grassy spot and ate our lunches, sharing our crumbs with the pigeons. By this time it was nearly 3:00 and we were quite hungry. We then had a little less than two hours to see what we could before getting back to the buses by the 5:15 departure time. The ride home was accompanied with happy and excited voices. The day had surpassed our expectations. Waiting for us when we returned to Domus Pacis was another great meal. God was very gracious today to his Cistercian children gathered at this General Chapter. I’m sure it put a smile on his face to see us all enjoying it so much. 

Fr. Stephen, Genesee

[The official pictures of the audience are available at > EVENTS 2017 > SEPTEMBER > 23.09.2017 > CAPITOLO GENERALE CISTERCENSI]