A Blog from Rome

I didn’t know that I suffer from agoraphobia until this year. We were in Rome this spring when the city imageswelled with pilgrims to celebrate the canonizations of the two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. We couldn’t even get within a mile of Piazza San Pietro; it seemed that half of Warsaw was in town. Here’s a picture from the other side of the river, about two miles away, which was as close as we could get without needing the services of the Italian Red Cross.

The event naturally encourages us to think about the monumental achievements of these two popes. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the Council, of course, will stand as one of the most important institutional events of the modern era. It encouraged and renewed so many people, inside and outside the Church. Pamela and I were very lucky to be able to pray most evenings with the Community of Sant’ Egidio, a lay community of peace founded by high school students in Rome who were inspired by John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. The community is anchored in communal prayer, evangelization and solidarity with the poor.

An aspect of John Paul’s legacy was on display in the newly opened excavation of a section of Domitian’s Circus, better known to tourists as the Piazza Navona. The archeological site had just opened a photographic and text exhibition celebrating the tireless efforts at interreligious dialogue of Pope John Paul II. It is amazing to be reminded how often he traveled to meet leaders of Jewish, Islamic and other faith traditions in the service of mutual understanding and peace. The second of the “Ten Commandments” of the Assisi prayer gathering for peace formulated by John Paul II reads:

We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people, of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

The photo exhibit is an excellent tool for such education; I hope that a good website for it will be available soon. So far I have been unable to find one. In the meantime, here is an article that lists the pope’s travels in the service of interreligious dialogue.

David Hammond and his wife Pamela Hedrick teach theology and Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Nobody Does It Better

On Divine Mercy Sunday, two extraordinary men were canonized: Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II. When these two heavenly friends sat on their papal thrones, they looked towards another extraordinary man to provide them—and the world—words of wisdom and hope: the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, whose birthday we commemorate tomorrow.

From John XXIII

During Archbishop Sheen’s first visit with Pope John XXIII, the Pope presented Sheen with a small silver gondola. During his second visit, the Holy Father asked Sheen to visit his brother and relatives in his home in northern Italy. When Sheen went there, the entire town turned out to bid him welcome. At that same audience, John XXIII told Sheen “You have suffered much…Is there anything I can do for you?” Sheen replied that there was nothing he wanted except to do the will of God. To that the Pope replied, “That makes it very easy for me.” On another visit with John XXIII, Sheen went to the Pope’s private residence, and John XXIII gifted him some autographed books he had authored. Sheen was surprised at the simplicity of the papal private chapel. After they prayed together in the chapel, they returned to his office downstairs, John XXIII called in a photographer and told Sheen.“Come, let us have our picture taken. It may make some in the Church jealous, but that will be fun.” (https://www.facebook.com/FultonJSheen)



sheen with pope saints

From John Paul II

Shortly before Sheen’s death in 1979, Pope John Paul II reached out to him in a personal letter.

God called you to proclaim in an extraordinary way his dynamic word. With great zeal you accepted this call, and directed your many talents to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, in these six decades of your priestly service, God has touched the lives of millions of the men and women of our time. They have listened to you on radio, watched you on television, profited from your many literary achievements and participated in spiritual conferences conducted by you. And so with Saint Paul, “I thank my God whenever I think of you; and every time I pray for…you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News.”  (October 11, 1979.)

In his inimitable wit, Sheen summed up the essence of the Church’s teaching on the papacy and not only that, but the means and meaning of our salvation:

No chain is stronger than its weakest link, and the weakest link of the chain of Popes was the first. But that weak link was held in the hands of Christ. That is why the papacy will never fail.                    (Through the Year with Fulton Sheen)

This excerpt from Archbishop Sheen’s television show in which he offers a teaching on the life of Pope John XXIII provides a window into Sheen’s gift of oratory, his love for the papal office, and of the man, John XXIII. Prepared to be amazed and humbled.

Speaking personally about my own spiritual growth, “nobody does it better” than Sheen. His audio talks were my constant companion during my long and solitary commute to and from work; the cadence of his voice mesmerized my young children on family trips, and they never once asked to “switch the radio station.” During down times, I find myself searching YouTube for clips of his television show. Interestingly, when I have used his writings in undergraduate classes, the students respond favorably, and they tell me they can understand him.

Saint Joseph’s College has acquired the complete Sheen audio files. SJC students can access them all here. If you are not a student, you can purchase them for under $30. I even have the app on my iphone – the portable Sheen! If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage everyone to become a friend of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Listen to his talks; watch his videos; get fed a daily quote by “friending” him on Facebook; watch a movie on his life; pray for his canonization.

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, you raise up within the Church in every age, men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask you to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

From CatholicWeb.com

 Patricia Ireland is Director of Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College Online.