Archive for February, 2009

My Paschal Pilgrimage — Part 5

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

My apologies to all who have been looking for “the rest of the story” of my Paschal Pilgrimage last spring to Europe


After returning home, I hosted and managed THREE Orientale Lumen Conferences (more about them in the future) in June and July, and then was consumed by planning and running a 25-city, 28-day Concert Tour with seminary choir from Uzhorod, Ukraine


Then came Christmas here at home and I went to Uzhorod again for Christmas on the Old Calendar (more about that trip in the future too!), and have just returned from a marvelous weekend with Metropolitan Kallistos in Oxford (more about that in a future report too!).


But here’s the end of the story from last spring …


Rome to Home.


The flight from Beirut to Rome was uneventful, and on arrival we were met at the airport and driven to our hotel.  I was with a few other lay persons who made the trip, the housekeeper and cousin of Patriarch Gregorios and the architect who is designing and managing many of the building projects that the Patriarchate has underway throughout Lebanon.  They both spoke English and knew more about our program schedule of activities than I, and so it was helpful to keep in contact with them.


We stayed at a wonderful guest house operated by the Diocese of Rome that had very comfortable rooms, private bath, and a fixed menu dining room for the guests.  It is located on the hill just behind Vatican City and so very convenient to Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Square – about a 30 minute walk or 5 minutes by taxi.


We arrived on Wednesday morning and had to wait a few minutes for our rooms to be ready, and so we had a nice lunch in the dining room.  The rest of the day had nothing scheduled, and so we rested and had dinner together again in the evening. Thursday was the busy day. 


The Patriarch, and twelve other Melkite bishops from around the world who came for the pilgrimage, stayed elsewhere in the city.  They had a private, personal audience with Pope Benedict XVI early in the morning. 


The rest of the pilgrims – clergy and lay persons from Melkite around the world, about 300 in total – gathered at the Bronze Door entrance to the Vatican about 11:00 am.  About 11:30 we entered and walked up the long staircases to main level of the Apostolic Palace. We were directed into the large Clementine audience hall where chairs had been arranged for the group, and for the bishops and pope in front. 


We all waited with great expectation for the arrival of the hierarchs.  About 12:30 the doors opened from the private residence of the pope and first the bishops, then the patriarch, and finally the pope entered the room to thunderous applause. 


It was very exciting to see the Holy Father in person, even though I was toward the back of the room, and be present with so many other Greek Catholics from around the world.Patriarch Gregorios first gave an address in French to the Holy Father, and Pope Benedict responded in French to the group. 


For most in the room, their second language after Arabic is French.  Unfortunately, I would have to wait to read an English translation in the newspaper!


A number of gifts were given to the pope by Patriarch Gregorios and others, including two books which I had prepared – special white leather bound editions of Patriarch Gregorios’ book of pastoral letters entitled I Am With You Always, and the festschrift I edited and published in honor of Archbishop Vsevolod called We Are All Brothers/3.  Because of the large group, I was not able to personally present them to the Holy Father, but was nevertheless honored that Patriarch Gregorios did.


When the audience ended, the pope posed for a group picture with the bishops in front and the crowd behind.  The patriarch and bishops all then left and probably had lunch in the Apostolic Palace with the Holy Father.


Our large group dispersed all around Saint Peter’s Square for lunch and a break before the Divine Liturgy later that afternoon in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. 


The main purpose of this Melkite pilgrimage was to initiate the Year of Saint Paul, and so the patriarchal liturgy in that basilica seemed quite appropriate.I carried my three handycams to the church and set up to make video recordings of this historic liturgy.  As a “one-man- band” video crew, I set up one camera fixed behind the altar and a second aimed at the small schola of singers from the Greek College who led the responses in mostly Arabic with some Greek.  Then with the third camera, I followed the “action” of processions, main elements of the liturgy at the altar, and views of the 500 person congregation.


The Liturgy took place in the apse of the basilica which is filled with large, magnificent mosaics of Christ and other saints in Byzantine style iconography.  The singing filled the church and one could imagine that this event was how liturgy might have been like in Hagia Sophia – the patriarch surrounded by a dozen bishops and priests, and hundreds of faithful singing with fervor!  I hope the video recordings will provide some sense of the wonder of the live experience.  A sample of it will be available soon on and CD and DVD recordings will be available soon for purchase from the online catalog on


After the liturgy, we walked a few blocks to a sports complex where a light reception of food and beverages were served for all who attended to socialize and meet.On Friday, a private audience with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, newly appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Catholic Churches, was arranged for me by Bishop Milan Shaskik of Mukachevo at about noon time. 


As I waited in the anteroom for my appointment, Patriarch Gregorios and other bishops came out of Cardinal Sandri’s office – they had been meeting with him just before my own appointment and so we greeted each other.


My visit was very warm and cordial, and His Eminence thanked me for working with Bishop Milan on various publishing projects.  I also took the opportunity to tell him about my other work – other book publishing, the Orientale Lumen Conferences, and OLTV.  He was very interested and seemed glad to learn of all these activities.


On Sunday morning, I made my way across the city to the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiorrie and Saint Anthony’s Church to be at the Divine Liturgy for Pentecost with Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ.  I again set up my three cameras and recorded that liturgy served almost exclusively in Church Slavonic according to the Russian Rite. 


After liturgy, Father Taft invited me for lunch at the Oriental Institute and we had an extended discussion of some book publishing projects and discussed the upcoming Orientale Lumen Conferences at which he would be one of the plenary speakers.


By Monday, after having been on the road for three and a half weeks, and visited seven different countries, I was quite ready for the flight home.  I was glad that United now has non-stop service from Rome to Washington, and so I was able to return without making connections elsewhere in Europe.


It had been a thrilling trip, and I accomplished much of what I planned, but was certainly glad to get home.