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A Night I Will Never Forget
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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".

Matthew Kaderabek, LC
Matthew Kaderabek, LC
Thy Kingdom Come!

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.

We 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.

We, for 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.

He arrived 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 come true.

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


PUBLICATION DATE: 2002-05-15


Forty-four Legionaries of Christ are ordained to the priesthood - Galeria
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- Forty-four Legionaries of Christ are ordained to the priesthood
- Diaconate ordinations of the Legion of Christ
- Priestly Ordinations During the LX Anniversary


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