I woke up on Tuesday morning late, pumped myself up with coffee, and headed down for another day. I found Archbishop Dolan (Milwaukee) in the lobby, newly-arrived and without a scrap of luggage (compliments of British Airways).
The first task of the day was to register for the Friday seminarian gathering with the Holy Father. The event itself was a surprise: the seminarist event itself was planned long in advance: no one knew the Holy Father himself was going to show until he announced his intention to do so a few weeks back. Immediately security was tightened. Myself, Fr. EJB and Msgr. Bill Fay (Archdiocese of Boston) headed down to St. Pantaleon's parish to register. We waited in line for several hours, chatting with seminarians from all over the world, religious and diocesan. The seminarians are pumped: the high profile given to their event by Pope Benedict was unexpected and appreciated, and energy is running high. Requirements were strict: passport, pre-registration ID, personal letter from bishop authorizing attendance for a seminarian. Fortunately, the volunteers could not read a word of English, or else they would have grasped that I carried a letter from Bishop John Nienstedt (New Ulm) explaining that I was not a seminarian and had no connection with seminarians whatsoever. Fortunately, as I said, they could not read English. I was registered and assigned a check-in for Friday, for a select group of 5,000 seminarists to see Pope Benedict on Fritag.
On the way back we met Bishops Schnurr (Duluth) and Cote (Norwich) wandering around, having been separated from their pilgrim groups, and trying desparately to find them. We jibed them about being shepherds without sheep.
Fr. EJB and I grabbed lunch with Bishop Skylstad (Spokane) and Msgr. Fay. Bishop Rosazza (Hartford) joined us later, as he wandered into the building. I was able to give Skylstad a few pointers about places to see when he goes to Jordan in a few months to visit the Patriarch there. I have to mention that, on the previous day, when attending mass at the crypt churhch of St. Mary Major, I received the chalice from Msgr. Fay. Now, upon reaching the chalice (which is unusual in itself in my diocese, where the chalice is not offered by local liturgical law) I noticed that it was filled to the brim, and being the last communicant, I decided to do the Eucharistic minister a favor by chugging a good bit of the Precious Blood, so he (he being Msgr. Fay) wouldn't have to chug it himself. Unfortunately, as could have been expected, I chugged and then choked, after a few gulps nearly spewing the Precious Blood all over the General Secretary of the USCCB. But I kept it back with much effort, although he no doubt noticed, making the lunch later a bit awkward.
After lunch we did some preliminary planning for our vocations program on Friday, with the youth of the military. All the steps should be in place. More on that later.
We then headed out to check out a gathering called 'vocation.com', named after the self-entitled vocations website. The site, as the gathering, is run (quietly) by the Legionaires of Christ. The Legionaires never cease to amaze me. They managed to secure a hotel about one block from the Cathedral, a prime spot for young people. They are running a 'coffeeshop' with live internet access and dirt-cheap food available for any pilgrims who stop by. An hourly mass and six confession stations (in about 20 languages) run twelve hours a day. Live bands and intermittent vocation speakers exchange places on the stage. Books and flyers from Legionaires and Regnum Christi criss-cross the room. The kids come in droves. Hundreds every hour flock in and out, peppering the confession booths, chattering up the priests (why is it that the Legionaire priests are the best-looking priests around?), and crowding in for masses. No site at WYD is as successful. They blatantly promote priestly vocations, parade their priests around, and push (literally) the kids into confession booths, and the kids respond en masse. No one else is pushing confessions. The Legionaires are there. I am incredibly grateful, because spiritual renewal is impossible without penance: I know that, and the Legionaires know that. Top-name bands take turns on the stage, Fr. EJB takes his turn giving a vocations talk (a bang-up job, too).
I caught a mass downstairs, with Fr. EJB presiding with two German priests assisting (one, I think, was a Legionaire). The mass was a combination of German and English, as was the crowd. The kids loved every minute, and flocked around Fr. EJB afterwards. He met two kids he had baptized back home in his home diocese. The kids love the priests, drink it up. There's a respect there. I prayed my office while the kids chatted up Fr. EJB, and I caught a confession with a Legionaire who barely spoke English (no worries, a fantastic confessor!). We left both utterly amazed by what the Legionaires had put together. No fuss. Just substance.
We visited the cathedral next. It is hard to compare with what we had seen in Vienna. Easily twice as big as St. Stephen's, towering over the landscape. The inside (and outside) is in even worse shape, rusted and discolored, blackened in most places. The structure had survived the WWII bombing, but not the passage of time. The structure is awe-inspiring from any angle, but it is in desparate need of work. The inside is great, because it is unchanged from the medieval era. Now as then, the cathedral is built to facilitate great numbers of pilgrims while simultaneously hosting an uninterrupted mass. Hundreds of pilgrims eased around the ambulatory side chapels without disrupting the mass. The prize: the remains of the three Magi, entombed in a tri-layer bright gold coffin on the high altar in the back of the church. I clutched the iron-wrought gate and whispered a prayer to the Magi, for myself, for the whole Church, and for union with the Church of the East (whence the Magi came).
The cathedral is serving as a focus point for the pilgrims gathering. While the interior is half-empty, the outside is thronged with pilgrim crowds, each carrying its national flag and usually doing some sort of chant or song. Spontaneous expressions of enthusiasm come forward. One group somehow organized a 'live fooz-ball' tournament, which each participant standing in one place kicking stoically at a ball. Other groups gather spontaneously for dances, songs and chants. The universal call goes out, 'WHERE FROM'? The response: Paraguay, Bavaria, Chile, Argentina, etc. The questioner then goes on, in most cases, to shout the name at the top of his lungs: 'PARAGUAY!!! YEEEAAAAHHH!!!' 'BAVARIA!! ROCK ON!!!!' Germans dominate the crowds, but the Bavarians are in especially high spirits, given the origins of Pope Benedict - they even have their own checkered flag.
At the cathedral we ran into Fr. Francis Bonicci, a secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Humble and even unimpressive in person, he remains a wonderful servant of the church in the area of vocations. On our way back from the cathedral, we met Bishops Schnurr and Cote again, still hanging around in front of the cathedral trying to find their flocks. They kind of remind me of lost high school kids who have somehow managed to get hold of a stray hall pass.
Fr. EJB and I caught dinner at a local restaurant. I ordered what sounded like a nice dish of pork and beef. Warning (Achtung): When you order food in Germany, make sure you ask the waiter whether or not the meal is served in gelatin form. The Polish Prince and I have had an inside joke about 'meat jello' for years. Never did I dream that it would show up on my plate. I forgot that Germany borders Poland. I have never been so ashamed to send a dish back to the kitchen. Fortunately it came with a generous side dish of french fries. Mid meal Fr. EJB and I saw Archbishop Levada and his auxiliary, Bishop Wang, stumbling through the plaza, clearly lost and confused. We thought about assisting them, but the meat jello was too enthralling.
After dinner I headed back to the hotel for some reading (Joseph Pieper, jah) and a soft glass of wine. Fr. EJB headed back to vocation.com, where the action is. More tomorrow, when the action really heats up.