Feb. 20, 2013
This reflection is by Sarah Ennis, former NCRLC intern. Sarah is studying in Rome this semester and will be providing NCRLC with her firsthand accounts in the coming weeks of the historic papal events. Sarah’s reflections can also be found at her blog, “Life in the Eternal City.”
It is always hard to say goodbye. Especially to the people we love. Even when we know the goodbye will bring new joys and blessings, the pain of parting is always real. A door closes and for a moment, before a new door opens, we feel left out in the cold.
For the Catholic Church, a door is gently closing. We are saying goodbye to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was the last public Mass of Pope Benedict. Of course, we had to attend.
Anxious to be as near the Pope as possible for the Mass, we stood in line outside of the Basilica for 3 hours. When they finally opened the gates, it was a mad rush through security and up the stairs to the Basilica. Yes, I admit, I was running. Me, the little nuns, the young seminarians, the holy priests, the old Italians couples, the blonde Australian lady, and everyone’s aunt, uncle, and spiritual director – all of us racing to be near our dear Pope one last time.
Our waiting paid off and we snatched seats close to the main altar. Well, as close as is possible behind hundreds of cardinals, bishops, and priests. I was blessed to have clear view of “Papa Bene” the entire Mass. Our Papa (Pope in Italian) humbly celebrated Mass; he prayed, preached, and consecrated – lifting up his Church to the Lord one last time.
Finally, right before the final blessing, some cardinal stood up and said something in Italian. I only caught “grazie” over and over again. All of us in St. Peter’s stood up and clapped. And didn’t stop clapping. We love our Pope and we wanted him to know that. So we kept clapping. I started crying. We were saying goodbye to our Papa and it hurt.
Poor Papa was trying to say the final prayer but couldn’t. Finally, the church quieted for the prayer, then erupted in clapping again as he processed out of the Basilica. This time, I was standing on my chair – clapping my hands and wiping my tears. I felt like a little sheep losing her shepherd. What a good and faithful shepherd, to step aside and humbly offer his people back to the Lord.
Despite the tearful goodbye, I did not feel alone. I knew that my true Shepherd had not gone anywhere. In fact, in these moments of patient anticipation, I know He is closer than ever. He has his arms wrapped around His flock, ready to pour out grace, strength, and wisdom to His Church. He blessed the world with the wise and humble Benedict XVI, and He will bless the world again. And so we will trust, and wait, and pray.
Photo: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was his last public Mass. Photo by Sarah Ennis.