First year seminarian Matt Meade reflects on the recent visit of our seminarians and staff – along with Scotland’s Bishops – to the Apostolic Palace to meet His Holiness, Pope Francis.
Many of us have seen the Pope before. He’s a small white figure in the distance as you stand among the huge crowds at the weekly Papal Audience in St Peter’s Square; a fleeting face amidst a forest of mobile-phone grasping hands, being whisked along in the Popemobile after his address.
But today is different. We’re inside the Vatican and Pope Francis is shaking our hands individually. This is the stuff!
The day began with us visiting St Peter’s Basilica for Mass, deep in the Vatican Grottoes, at the tomb of St Peter. You can’t sing here without ‘giving it laldy’; our hymns swell and echo around the cavernous setting, home of chapels dedicated to various saints going way back to the 10th century. All eight bishops of Scotland join us for the Mass, which formally opened their ad limina meeting with Pope Francis (read more here). During his homily, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia told us: “Do not settle for spiritual mediocrity; the people of God deserve so much better.”
We are then guided through the maze that is the Vatican, quietly passing wonderful Christian art hanging from the walls, before settling in a room deep within the palace and being told to wait. After 20 minutes or so of nervous chatter, His Holiness steps into the room to receive us. It’s a relaxed and informal gathering.
He walks around us all, warmly shaking our hands. A photographer snaps away so we have a treasured memento of the occasion (we leave him a memento of our own: a bottle of Single Malt Whisky from Oban).
It was a great privilege to meet the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and a man who gives off an aura of simplicity, modesty and humility.
He imparts his Apostolic Blessing and tells us: “Pray for me… it is very important.”
As you read this, say a prayer for our Pope, that he may continue to lead us in the way of Christ.