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Witnessing canonization of two popes

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)

When St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were canonized on April 27, a diocesan priest was front and center and two couples from the diocese were in a nearby square viewing on a jumbo screen.

Father Shane Deman, a diocesan priest who is pursuing doctoral studies in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, was one of 600 priests who were asked to help distribute Communion to the faithful in St. Peter's Square and down the Via della Conciliazione.  

“It was a privilege to distribute Holy Communion,” said the priest. “There was clearly a spiritual hunger among the people as many had camped out all night and truly wanted to receive the Eucharist on such a historic day.”
Father Deman said what was most memorable for him was the chance to see so many young people.

“There were youth groups and young adults from around the world and seeing their energy and enthusiasm reminded me of a World Youth Day atmosphere,” he said. “As St. John Paul II was the one to begin the World Youth Days, it was a fitting remembrance of him.”

The priest was able to meet St. John Paul II in November of 2005 as a seminarian. Msgr. Roger Augustine was representing the diocese in the ad limina visit to meet the Holy Father and Father Will Vit, another seminarian at the time, and Father Deman were invited to go along.

“It is certainly remarkable to have met someone who has been declared a saint,” said Father Deman.

“However, I would also call to mind the holy men and women whom I have met in our own diocese who may have never been officially canonized, but nevertheless lived lives worthy of God.”
Witnessed nearby

Daryl and Kathy Kohlhaas and Larry and Sandy Schneider, parishioners at St. Cecelia’s in Algona, were in Rome for the canonizations.

The couples stayed at a convent about a mile from the Vatican, about a half hour walk.

“Part of our group planned to camp on the street leading to St. Peter’s Square,” said Daryl. “At about 8 p.m. the night before the canonization, the first of several barriers was removed and the crowd surged up to the next barrier. The crush of people intimidated many of the campers, and they returned to the convent.”

Kohlhaases and the Schneiders along with the rest of their group had originally planned to rise at 3 a.m. to try to get to the square.

“Recognizing that it would be nearly impossible to get close with four million others having similar plans, we decided to view the canonization on a jumbo video screen in the square on which the convent bordered, next to the French embassy,” said Daryl.

The two couples found places in the rooftop garden of the convent, while about 3,000 people gathered in the square below. The chaplain accompanying their pilgrimage group had an invitation to be part of the ceremony at St. Peter’s, but he remained with them and concelebrated from the rooftop.

Kathy mentioned this allowed “us to receive the Eucharist while also experiencing the entire canonization Mass with the people in St. Peter’s Square and the people in the Piazza Farnese below us.”

Although they weren’t in St Peter's Square for the canonization, Sandy commented, “We did get to experience the crowd and the excitement. The crowds were overwhelming but it proves how unified the Catholic Church is with all the different countries that were represented.” 

“The experience of being with so many enthusiastic, joyful but reverent pilgrims was truly inspiring,” said Kathy. Young people in the crowd began singing as they waited for the ceremony to begin, and chanted greetings to the pope and to the two new saints.”

“We worried about the overcast skies and the predictions of rain, but just after the canonization announcements, as the relics were presented, the sun broke through the clouds momentarily as if God was approving our recognition of the two new saints,” said Daryl.

While in Rome the couples were able to pray before the tombs of the new Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II. Larry commented “being able to view the incorrupt body of Saint John XXIII was unbelievable.”

Remainder of the trip

The couples were also able to be close to Pope Francis at the Wednesday general audience on April 30. When the pope rode by in the popemobile, he was within 20 feet of where they were seated.

“We appreciated his personality, cheerfully greeting all of us, kissing a couple of small children, playfully exchanging caps with one young person before retrieving his white skullcap,” said Kathy. “We were very touched when it was announced that the pope’s blessing of us and our religious articles also extended to our families at home, especially those who were ill.”

Daryl pointed out “while the canonization, visits to the basilicas and the many relics collected in Rome from early Christianity were the main focus of our pilgrimage, we also found time to enjoy Italy’s modern culture, especially the gelatos.”

“Another exciting day was when Father Nick Becker (originally from Wesley) met us for lunch,” said Sandy. “He graduated with one of our daughters and we know him well.  He is attending college in Rome.”

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