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A Pilgrimage of Mercy

Spaces of Hope
Fr. Carmelo O. Diola

 

Fr. Carmelo O. Diola“You need a different ticket to sit over there,” the plainclothes Swiss guard told me. A moment before, I had asked him if I may sit close enough to the altar for the Saturday catechism for volunteers and workers of mercy in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis himself was to give the catechesis in preparation for the Canonization of Mother Teresa of Kalkota. “Tell you what,” as he pulled something from his pocket, “I will give you this ticket so you may sit closer.” Tears welled up in me.

One of those who gave a personal testimony before the Pope’s catechesis was Sr. Sally, the superior of the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, who was the only survivor of a massacre of religious sisters and their workers by the ISIS last March 4, 2016. They had the choice of leaving or staying. They chose to stay.
I had the very special grace to do an eight-minute interview of Mother Teresa way back in 1983 before entering the seminary two years later. I had been active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Cebu and was in charge of our newsletter, “Tongues of Fire.”

She emphasized the need to pray together so to stay together and that love is proof that we really belong to Jesus. Then she spoke unequivocally: “…we live today with so much difficulties in the world, the break has come from the family life to abortion. For abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace because it began at home. If a mother can destroy her own child, what is left for others to kill each other?”

Familiar words. But spoken by a saint, they cut you to the core.

The canonization of Mother Teresa the following day was very hot and the basalt and cement pavement of St. Peter’s Square did not help. The solemn declaration by Pope Francis said it all: “We decree and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint, and We place her name in the catalogue of Saints, decreeing that in the universal Church she is to be venerated among the Saints with pious devotion. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The heat recalled the favorite expression of St. Teresa of Calcutta, a cry of Jesus from the cross, “I Thirst,” found in all the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity. It was nature’s way of connecting us to the spirituality of Mother Teresa.

***

After the canonization we visited five of the Station Churches of Rome. St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls had their own Holy Doors. How abundant is God’s mercy!

Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vultus had written: “The Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” His predecessor St. John Paul II said that the Holy Door “evokes the passage from sin to grace.” My personal favorite is Luke 11:9: “…Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Indulgence is “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Question 312). This remission is fruit of going through the Holy Door with the right disposition.

I felt a unexplainable lightness of being. It’s like the fissures of the soul, to which sin and its wounds clings, were removed. Temporal punishment due to sin is real. More so are indulgences.

The Door of Mercy stands in stark contrast to Auschwitz. We visited this 160-hectare network of three main camps in Southern Poland that symbolizes the depths of inhumanity and cruelty. A totalitarian regime fuelled by a Godless ideology desecrated lives with impunity and savage efficiency. Children were subjected to experimentation. The sick and weak were exterminated. All that mattered in human lives were solely anything of utilitarian value.

The killings continue in our modern world. Modern, secularized governments, media, academe, and the art and entertainment industry promote the killing of the unborn. Recently Western press praised the “courage” of a Belgian woman who had her handicapped daughter euthanized.

Block 11 is an especially grisly reminder of the horrors of Auschwitz as ever more efficient killing methods were tried out here. Yet in Cell 18 on August 14, 1942 something totally contrary occurred. A Catholic priest named Maximilian Kolbe was injected with carbolic acid. He had exchanged his life for a condemned prisoner.

Divine Mercy has the last word.

***

I was up bright and early for the Thanksgiving Mass for St. Teresa on Monday 05 September. I was hoping to be there early enough for some good seats. Along the way, however, the imperative of mercy beckoned as I made sure our group’s stragglers made it to St. Peter’s Square. By the time I got there, the square was already filled with people.

Again I presented my ticket to a uniformed Swiss Guard. He looked at it and said this was only valid for the canonization. I pleaded with him. He let me through to the concelebrants’ space to the left of the outdoor altar facing the Basilica. I found myself seated in the 12th row.

During offertory, the priests in my row suddenly stood up. I instinctively grabbed my bag and followed the line. Noting that I was the only one doing so, I hurriedly returned to my seat to leave my bag.

Without my knowing it, my row had been randomly chosen to give the communion to our fellow priests and some laity. We were made to hold a ciborium and a chalice, the latter with a purificator. Then we trooped to the side of the altar where Cardinal Parolin was presiding.

Many thoughts crowded my mind, filled with gratitude at this unexpected grace. I realized at this moment I was not there for myself but representing the people who had asked me for prayers, for my siblings and their families, for my friends, for Dilaab members, our different partner networks and organizations, and others.

After some minutes, I felt tiredness in my arms. I drew my arms closer to my chest for support. “When you offer something to God, let them always come from your heart,” came the thought.

How blessed indeed was this pilgrim!

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