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The end of June and beginning of July, 2013 was a dream come true for the 10 Seminarians and their Spiritual Father, Fr Jerome Nyathi who found themselves chosen and joining 6000 young people from across the globe for the International Pilgrimage to the Tomb of St Peter, in Rome under the theme ‘I trust in you’. This pilgrimage was initiated by the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who wished that in the year of Faith the Seminarians and Novices and those considering their vocations would do well sharing their faith experiences and thus strengthen their vocations and call. It could rightly be said that; What Benedict XVI begun, Pope Francis completed.
The Seminarians travelled to Rome on the 30th of June, 2013, a few days before the beginning of the pilgrimage (4 – 7 July), and were able to spend some time visiting the historic sites of Rome. This was an eye opener and put to life the history that they have read about in their studies.
The procession from the gardens of St Angelo to St Peter’s Basilica marked the beginning of the pilgrimage. The rainbow that was visible to many was a beautiful sight to view, as if the Lord was reiterating his presence and promise amongst his people; ‘I will be with you always’. Furthermore, the drops of rain and the showers that fell on us, as we continued with our procession, were seen as the blessings from above accompanying us into profession of faith and the veneration of the tomb of St Peter. This experience of a lifetime indeed nourished our spirits.
The second day saw a group of Seminarians, Novices and those considering their vocations with their formators being divided into major language groups for Catechesis in different Churches in Rome on the theme of ‘Vocation in the teaching of Vatican II’. The Archbishop of Jersey, USA, brilliantly shared with us the many times in which the Latin words; vocare – to call and vocatio- a call are used in the Vatican II documents. He further articulated how Moses journeyed with God in his calling, thus to say that we too are called to live a life of witness as we journey with God in our vocations as Priests and Religious.
Taking the seminarians through the streets of Rome where there is living history of the Catholic Church brought forth many emotions and feelings. The opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was yet another blessing that we received on this pilgrimage. One seminarian was heard continuously singing Simeon’s song; Now let your servant depart in peace for my eyes have seen…
The formators had a chance of meeting with Archbishop Fisichella who spoke on: “The importance of formation in our modern age”. He emphasized the need to form new evangelizers for this era of New Evangelization.
The climax of the pilgrimage came when we met with the Pope at Paul VI Hall on Saturday, 6th and at the celebration of Holy Mass on the 7th of July. Just before his arrival at 17h00, we were entertained and inspired by the performances of the Three Singing Priests from Ireland, and the Rector in the USA who shared on his contribution on Evangelization on YouTube.
The arrival of the Pope aroused great joy in the Hall with clapping and the chanting of “Francesco! Francesco! Francesco! Viva il Papa!!!” Pope Francis engaged the people with his exhortation for seminarians and novices to be joyful in their vocations, for consistency and authenticity in their lives, about the need for a missionary spirit when the confines of the church building is left, in other words the territory outside a church is missionary territory. He also spoke about the need for a holistic formation involving the four pillars: spiritual, intellectual, apostleship and community (human).
The audience was followed by a Rosary procession through the picturesque Vatican gardens. Mary is indeed our Mother, Model, Exemplar and Ideal.
The pilgrimage closed off on the 7th of July with a Mass in a packed St Peter’s Basilica presided over by Pope Francis. Looking back at this pilgrimage, the universality of the Church gathered in unity around the Holy Father really stood out and affirmed our vocations in the perspective of love, fraternity and unity with the universal church.
The visits to the churches where many different saints are buried encouraged us to, like the saints; give our lives in a continual witness of Christ. The Pope’s homily and Angelus Address on the 7th rounded off the pilgrimage most appropriately with his reflection on the mission of the 72 disciples. This was a sending out by the Pope, as it were, of all of us to go into the world and proclaim the gospel in both word and deed.
We flew back to South Africa in the evening of the 7th of July having been refreshed and renewed. The experience of the universality of the Church was moving and affirming to our faith. The need to form ‘new evangelizers for new evangelisation’ still sounds to me as a challenge to formators in Seminaries. It was a special moment of intense prayer feeling very much part of the many ‘giants’ and ‘saints’ in the faith. Listening to a humble and down to earth Pope Francis addressing us was indeed a blessing and a dream come true!
We are most grateful to the Southern African Bishops’ Conference (SABC) for paying for two seminarians, SECAM who paid for two other seminarians. Many thanks also go to friends, relatives, benefactors and Parishioners who supported and paid for the rest of the seminarians. We are grateful to the Rector Father Molewe Machingoane for taking this invitation up and we are most grateful to the Students at St John Vianney for sacrificing and contributing some pocket money to their fellow seminarians who went to Rome.
We prayed for you all and we continue to pray that the Lord will always bless you abundantly and perhaps more importantly, that you continue knowing Him better, loving Him intimately and serving Him worthily!