This year, towards the end of March 2023, the Superior General had applied for a papal audience to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the fusion of our Congregation in 1848 and on 3rd May we were delighted to receive the news that it would take place on Monday, 8th May at 11.00 in the Consistory Hall.
We assembled outside in St. Peter’s Square, facing the Basilica, at the right hand side fountain. We were 49 in all: 15 from the Generalate, 9 Confreres doing parish ministry in Italy, 13 from the community of Confreres on studies at Notre Dame, 7 visiting Confreres, 2 visiting lay Associates plus 3 persons representing out staff at the Generalate.
We were led by a series of guides, up magnificent staircases, through sumptuous corridors and reception halls adorned with priceless paintings and sculptures, saluted by Swiss Guards wherever we went, until finally we were led in to the audience hall where were warmly invited to take seats and wait. The half an hour of waiting was eternal as we anxiously awaited to meet the Holy Father. Finally, at 11:00am, as scheduled the Pope, with is walking stick, gently walked in.
The Pope received us, representing our 2600 members worldwide. This would be the third time that a Spiritan community has had an audience with the Pope. A rapid glance at our records seems to indicate that the first Papal audience for the Congregation (with Pope Paul VI, now a saint since 14th October 2018) was during the first session of the General Chapter on 11th November 1968 and the second Papal audience was during the 300th anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation on Monday, 26th May 2003 (with Pope John Paul II, now a saint since 30th September 2013). Prior to this audience Pope John Paul II had also visited the French Seminary on 11th January 1981.
The contrast between the rich splendour of what we had just seen and the simplicity of the Pope in appearance and manner impressed everybody .
The Superior General read a short address in Italian on behalf of the entire Congregation which the Pope listened to attentively. Alain presented him with two books: James Chukwuma Okoye (ed.), CHARISM & MISSION SINCE VATICAN II, Superior’s General Letters to the Spiritan Congregation, 1968-2020 and Tony Neves, LUSOFONIAS, De Roma para o Mondo, Dedicatoria Ao Papa Francisco, por tudo.
Then the Pope addressed us: about our Charism, our rich history and how Providence has rewarded us because of our generous and courageous docility to the Spirit.
After his address the Holy Father gave his apostolic blessing, not just for those of us who were privileged to be there but also, as requested by Alain Mayama, to Spiritans throughout the world – professed, associates and all our faithful collaborators.
Then the Pope shook hands with each one of us and then came to seat among us for a group photo.
Finally, the Pope bide us farewell and gently walked away as he had walked in. It was obvious to us all that we had just been in the presence of a man of immense wisdom, courage and simplicity.