Thy Kingdom Come!
|Matthew Kaderabek, LC|
Easter Sunday, 15 April 2001
About five years ago,
when I was struggling through my first year of studying
philosophy in Italian, one of the brothers described to me
how he had made a trip to the grotto to
ask our Blessed Mother for a special favor: could she
speak to her Son and arrange for a personal meeting
with the Pope? He meant by this an opportunity
to serve one of his Masses, with the opportunity to
greet him afterwards. At the Blessed Mother´s request, the
Lord granted this brother´s prayer in less than a month.
Well, needless to say, I followed the brother´s suggestion
that I do the same, and in the last five
years I´ve made numerous trips to the grotto with this
intention on my heart. I´ve had in the same
five year period a number of exciting opportunities to play
and sing for the Holy Father with our band and
choir, but wonderful as those memories are, they could not
replace meeting him in person.
Part of the
difficulty with fulfilling this heartfelt desire to greet the Pope
was that the two big Masses that the Legionaries traditionally
serve, Christmas Eve and the Easter Vigil, happen to coincide
with major choir activity in our house. Being a
member of the choir, this has always taken me out
of the running. I knew, therefore, that I would
need a small miracle -- one that came in the
form of "temporary memory block" for Father Alvaro, rector
of our seminary. He forgot I was in the choir
and put my name on the list. When he
told me that I would be serving the Easter Vigil
Mass in St. Peter´s Basilica I wanted to shout for
joy, but I tried to contain myself.
The dress rehearsal was
Saturday morning in St. Peter´s Basilica. A good number
of us went, perhaps two dozen. My mission would
be to read the commentaries in English at various moments
throughout the ceremony in order to help the congregation enter
in to the liturgy and understand what was about to
occur. With me was a brother who would read
the commentaries in Italian, and another in Spanish.
We already felt like celebrities as we began the rehearsal
with a huge crowd gathering at the barricade; they must
have wondered if our practicing was some kind of preliminary
ceremony. It was raining steadily, with a cold wind strong
enough to turn our umbrellas inside-out. And it didn´t
do anything for the head cold I was fighting.
In an effort to save my voice for the evening
ceremony, I had a cough drop perpetually tucked "between the
cheek and gum". I was hoping it wouldn´t give
me lip cancer. (Cancer, no, but it might make
my teeth fall out.)
We were all very excited, to say
the least. I went over my lines again and
again to make sure I wouldn´t trip over them when
the pressure was on.
We returned to St. Peter´s
in the evening only to discover enormous lines of people
already slowly working their way through the security checkpoints. I
lost in the crowd the several brothers I was arriving
with and decided that I wasn´t up for waiting in
the long line. I pulled out my white official
pass stamped "Commentatori" and walked right to the front of
line, trying to look important and like I had every
right to bypass the line. I calmly presented my
pass to the head of security, praying that he´d agree
that I shouldn´t have to wait in line. He
studied the card, and motioned to his assistants to let
me through. Thank you, Lord. (It would have
been at least a half hour wait in the cold
wind, which might well have done in my ailing voice.)
Between that first security station and the sacristy, I must
have flashed my "Commentatori" pass at least another five times
to security officers and Swiss guards along the way.
Security was tight, tight, tight. Once in, I walked
right up next to Michelangelo´s stunningly beautiful Pietà, something the
public can no longer do, and said a prayer of
thanksgiving to the Blessed Mother and to her Beloved Son
for granting me such a special grace.
At "T minus
15," the three of us commentators lined up to process
out to the Atrium ahead of the others who would
process in with the Holy Father at 8:00 PM.
We were just about to walk out when the assistant
Master of Ceremonies suggested we wait for a moment as
the Pope was about to arrive. Bless him for
suggesting it -- he knew what it would mean to
us to be there when he walked in. So,
we turned and fixed our eyes on the door in
the small adjoining room to the right of the Pietà
where the Holy Father vests. Not thirty seconds later,
the door opened... there was a five second pause... and
through the door came our hero in white, our father,
our inspiration, the Vicar of Christ.
Still glowing, we
then processed to the Atrium and found our places in
front of the fire where John Paul would bless the
Paschal Candle, and light the candle from the fire.
Although several of the large porticoes to the Square outside
had been blocked off for the ceremony, there was still
a fairly strong cold wind whipping through the Atrium.
I was thanking God that the three hour ceremony wasn´t
going to take place outside in the open air as
it did the previous year.
After waiting for five
minutes, the assistant Master of Ceremonies gave us our cue...
we were "on the air." In the afternoon, I
had insisted that the brother reading the Italian commentaries go
first. I didn´t want to be responsible for missing
a cue given in Italian, and throwing off the program.
A man from Vatican Radio stepped up with a
mobile microphone, and Brother began reading. I followed along
in my own English text, more excited than nervous.
I soon realized that there was another advantage to going
second, as it took a while for the equally excited
crowd to quiet down. I think they probably only
heard the second half of Brother´s reading. In a
moment, the microphone was in front of me. I
took a deep breath and began reading. It´s hard
to express the excitement, perhaps even the "power trip" that
one feels with your own voice thundering inside the enormous
basilica and outside in St. Peter´s Square. I had
never heard it like that before, and probably never will
again. As it turned out, my head cold actually
helped my reading as it lowered my voice a tone
or two and gave it more resonance.
When the commentaries
were over the Pope arrived in procession into the Atrium
and after a brief ceremony lit the Paschal Candle, a
symbol of Christ, the Light of the world. At
that point, we commentators read a brief paragraph and then
lined up behind the others to process down the long
main aisle into the Basilica, and all the way up
to the main altar. All the lights in the
Basilica were then turned off, and the only light was
that given off by the flame of the large Paschal
Candle, being carried by one of the deacons. It
was a pilgrimage passing from darkness into light. We
stopped three times on the 200-meter trek up the main
aisle, at which point the deacon sang in a clear
tenor voice, "Lumen Christi"... the Light of Christ. After
the second Lumen Christi, everyone in the Basilica lit their
candles. Very beautiful. By the time we finally
reached the main altar, I was feeling glad that I
had not been picked as the Cross bearer. It´s
a tall, ornate cross that looks quite heavy. It
looked to be wavering a bit despite the fact that
a strong brother had been chosen to carry it.
mounted the platform where we had a terrific view of
the main altar and all that was going on and
over the next hour or so, read another four times.
Surprisingly, after the third or fourth commentary, all the
nerves were gone. It was as if we were
reading in our own chapel.
Both the Exultet, a
poetic and joyful thanksgiving for the blessed night of Christ´s
Resurrection, and the Liturgy of the Word, which evokes the
great events of the history of salvation from the creation
of the world until the new and definitive creation of
the Lord´s Resurrection, were beautifully sung by a half dozen
priests and deacons with fabulous voices. It was as
if the angels themselves were singing. It was a
taste of heaven.
Once finished with our lines, the three
of us processed around the back of the main altar
and took our positions with the other Legionaries for the
Liturgy of the Eucharist. As moving and beautiful as
the first half of the ceremony had been, the Eucharistic
Feast was clearly the high point of the Mass.
our part, were done. We hadn´t tripped over our
lines or coughed in the middle of a commentary, thank
God. The pressure was off. No more cough
drops. (By this time, my cheek and gum were
beginning to rot.)
When Mass ended, we lined
back up to process back down the main aisle to
the sacristy. I was so happy that I couldn´t
wipe the smile off my face. Not that anyone
minded. By the time we reached the sacristy, my
cheeks were sore from smiling. We formed a semi-circle
as we filed in, and waited for the exciting moment
when the Pope would arrive atop his rolling platform.
smiling and still looking strong after the long, three-hour ceremony.
The line of cardinals who had arrived in front
of him were the first to greet him one by
one and wish him a Happy Easter -- at which
point, I (for one) was praying, "Please, Lord, let us
greet him, too. Dear Lord, please!" Then with
great jubilation I watched Bishop Marini motion to one of
his assistants to have us fall in line behind the
cardinals. I didn´t need to be told twice.
None of us did. I was perhaps the fourth
or fifth in line, and as I looked at John
Paul over the top of the my shorter brothers, my
heart began to beat wildly. I´m going to greet
him, I´m really going to greet him.
We were moving
through quickly, so in only about twenty seconds it was
my turn. He had descended two steps on his
platform, but remained on the first step, which was perfect,
as it allowed those of us taller brothers to look
directly into his eyes. Indeed, it was as if
I were looking into the eyes of Christ himself.
I took his hand, knelt and kissed his papal ring
with all the fervor in the world, and the softly
spoken words which spontaneously came out of my mouth were,
"I love you". It just came out. Since I
spoke these words softly (in English), I can´t even be
sure that he understood me. But, he smiled as
I looked into his eyes, and that was enough for
me. All too quickly, my five seconds were up
and the next brother was anxiously reaching for his hand.
I floated to the side of the sacristy where
the brothers who had already greeted the Pope were waiting.
One of the assistants handed each of us a
rosary after we had had our turn to greet the
Pope. My heart continued to pound for almost ten
minutes, and, sore cheeks or not, I still couldn´t wipe
the smile off my face. We all stood close
and watched the whole line go through and then waved
to the Holy Father as he descended his rolling platform,
and entered his vesting room. It was a dream
But the memorable evening wasn´t quite over yet.
Bishop Marini and his team, all in magenta robes,
invited us to a midnight snack in Vatican City.
We followed them through passageways that I had never seen
before to a cozy dining room where Bishop Marini was
waiting for us. It was very festive as we
each enjoyed a glass of champagne and some "panettone," a
popular Italian sweet bread. So, there you have it, celebrating
the Lord´s Resurrection with Pope John Paul II. A
night I will never forget.
Brother Matthew Kaderabek, LC