It is just after midnight and I have spent the evening with several thousand priests from around the world. St Peter’s square was packed from 8.30 for almost three hours of reflection and prayer with Pope Benedict.
I had thought that I would not be in Rome for these days, but my flights to Chicago were altered and tickets to the events for the closing of the Year of the Priest fell into my lap. I have no doubt that God wanted me to be here.
The atmosphere as priests gathered tonight was warm and friendly. There was an excited anticipation around the event. We knew we were united even before we met each other. I was sitting between a missionary from Africa who is celebrating his golden jubilee of ordination this year and a young priest from the mid-west USA, ordained three years ago.
As I looked around I noted that perhaps as many as half the priests present were younger than me. You might get a sense of this from the photos.
Several times since he has become pope, Pope Benedict has used question and answer form in some gatherings. Tonight several priests asked questions on behalf of all priests. The pope’s responses were unscripted and from the heart. As I looked around there were many priests moved to tears at the beauty and depth of his encouragement to us. The priests were also very enthusiastic in their encouragement of the pope and he also was clearly moved by our affection and support.
The translations of the question / responses will be available in the next couple of days and I will put a link to these on this blog.
The highlight of the evening was our time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The tens of thousands of priests and people in the square knelt on the uneven paving. The choir sang as the Sacrament was exposed, then, silence. For ten minutes there was not a sound or a movement. Here, without activity or conversation, on our knees, we were priests.
Later this morning I will go back to the square for Mass with the pope to close the Year of the Priest.