July 12, 2013

Archdiocan Pallium Pilgrimage Blog

United in faith: Rome pilgrimage leads to lasting bonds and desire to share joy of being Catholic

Surrounded in the Piazza Navona square by the 80 people who made a pilgrimage with him to Rome, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin talks with Robert Van Note, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, on June 26. The Piazza Navona is built on the site of an ancient Roman stadium from the first century. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Surrounded in the Piazza Navona square by the 80 people who made a pilgrimage with him to Rome, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin talks with Robert Van Note, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, on June 26. The Piazza Navona is built on the site of an ancient Roman stadium from the first century. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

ROME—On a morning that would distinguish Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s connection to Pope Francis and his leadership of the archdiocese, an unexpected sequence of scenes forever defined the archbishop in the hearts of the 80 people who made a pilgrimage to Rome with him.

The scenes started shortly before 6:30 on the sun-kissed morning of June 29, the day when Archbishop Tobin would later kneel in front of Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica to receive his pallium—a circular band made from lamb’s wool that symbolizes his role as the shepherd of the archdiocese and his communion with the pope.

(Related: See a photo spread from the pilgrimage)

Yet three hours before that historic moment, Archbishop Tobin stood in front of a bus parked in the middle of a street near one of the hotels where he stayed with his fellow pilgrims, and greeted each of them by name, with a smile and with variations of the words, “I’m happy you’re here to celebrate.”

As the bus made the short trip to Vatican City, the archbishop used the public address system microphone to tell a joke before turning serious as he led prayers “for the churches of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, especially the Batesville Deanery” where a series of closings and mergers of parishes were announced recently.

Just before the bus parked in a compact area between St. Peter’s Basilica and the residence that Pope Francis calls home, the archbishop told the pilgrims, “I hope everyone has a wonderful celebration this morning.” Stepping from the bus, he posed for picture after picture with pilgrims, old friends and family members until he finally had to enter St. Peter’s 30 minutes later.

After watching the archbishop that morning, Agnes Magnaye of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield marveled at the way he tries to connect with people, noting a favorite personal moment from the times the archbishop celebrated Mass during the pilgrimage: “When he gives me Communion, he says my name. I was surprised he remembered my name. It just makes it so special.”

That reaction was shared by Cheryl Torok-Fleming, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Nashville: “He’s a people person, a very open person. He doesn’t set himself apart from people because of his role with the Church. He’s just very caring—a true shepherd of the flock.”

‘Connected across time’

Archbishop Tobin focused on that theme of “connection” in his homily during Mass on June 26—the first full day of the pilgrimage that began with a tour of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, the sacred underground setting where 100,000 early Christians from the second to fifth centuries are buried.

“One of the best things about being Catholic is being connected,” the archbishop said during the Mass at the chapel of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. “We’re connected with our brothers and sisters across the world, but we’re also connected across time.

“Perhaps that’s felt so deeply when we come on pilgrimage to Rome. For we profess every Sunday that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. And here we touch that Church in a real way. We come like millions who have come before us—to pray at the tombs of the Apostles, to get involved. So we’re thankful to those Apostles who came here to preach the Good News and to witness by their blood.

“We’re connected to all those nameless men, women and children whose tombs we visited in the catacombs. We’re connected with all the other pilgrims we’re going to meet, whose languages we can’t understand, but whose faith we share. And we’re connected to Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about ‘I’m the vine, and you are the branches.’ You named me. Why? ‘So you can bear much fruit ’ ” (Jn 15:5).

In closing, the archbishop noted, “So we thank God for the connections—the connections to the Apostles, to Jesus, to each other. We ask that by deepening these connections during our pilgrimage, we may bear great fruit for the world.”

Favorite memories of the pilgrimage

Every person who made the pilgrimage from June 25 through July 2 has their favorite personal memory of how that sense of connection came to life during the journey.

For some, it is the blessing of being part of a celebration of the Mass in the chapel above St. Peter’s tomb in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on June 28—a spiritually and emotionally moving moment that placed pilgrims at the personal roots of faith and sacrifice that helped to build the early Church.

For others, it is the pallium Mass—including the gifts of seeing Pope Francis in person, and experiencing the universality of the Church firsthand as St. Peter’s Basilica overflowed with people from around the world for a Mass during which 34 archbishops from 19 countries received their palliums.

Still others focus on the June 27 visit to Orvieto, a town about 75 miles north of Rome that’s home to the Cathedral of Orvieto and the “Miracle of the Eucharist.”

The story of the Miracle of the Eucharist is shared in an Orvieto guidebook: “In 1263, a priest, said to doubt the dogma of the transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ in the host and the wine, went on a pilgrimage to Rome to pray at the tomb of St. Peter that his faith might be strengthened.”

Returning from Rome, the priest stopped near Orvieto to celebrate Mass, during which he saw blood flowing from the host—enough to soak the Eucharistic altar cloth.

After the miracle, residents of Orvieto devoted their work, their talents and their lives to creating the cathedral which took three centuries to build, according to a cathedral information pamphlet.

And then there was the July 1 visit to Subiaco and the turning, twisting ride up the narrow roads of a mountain to St. Benedict’s Abbey to see the place where one man’s faith touched the world, including his influence on religious communities in Indiana.

As compelling as each of those visits were, a case for “personal favorite memory” could also be made for the pilgrims’ journey to the scenic city of Siena on June 30.

Bonds across culture and language

On the day after the pallium Mass, the pilgrims started an early morning, nearly three-hour bus trip through the Italian countryside into the rolling hills of Tuscany toward the hometown of St. Catherine of Siena, a woman who always put her faith first.

There, as the pilgrims walked up several steep inclines on the way to the Cathedral of Siena for Sunday Mass, they passed an older woman struggling to make it up a hill on her way to the church. After talking with the woman, Archbishop Tobin picked her up and carried her up the hill.

Later, the archbishop celebrated a midday Mass entirely in Italian for local Catholics and members of the pilgrimage. That celebration led Carolyn Noone, director of special events for the archdiocese, to note, “For that time, we were really one with the people of Siena.”

Still, the most touching moment came as the archbishop processed from the altar. A small Italian boy ran toward him, put his arms around him and hugged him—a hug that Archbishop Tobin returned with a smile. A few steps later, an older Italian woman reached out her arms toward the archbishop and hugged him, too.

Those connections across differences of culture and language resonated with Tony Hollowell, a seminarian from the archdiocese who is receiving priestly formation at the North American College, and was an altar server for the Mass.

“You see that people are hungry for that message of salvation, that forgiveness of sin, in any language,” said Hollowell, a member of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis.

“So many people are looking for the same things that we’re looking for in Indianapolis—to be loved, to know the love of the Father, to be forgiven by him and to receive the body and blood of Christ.”

A foundation of family and faith

At the hotel breakfast to start the day on June 27, Archbishop Tobin sat at a table wearing sandals, blue jeans and a black T-shirt marked by these words in bold, white letters—IMPORTED FROM DETROIT.

The T-shirt is a gift from one of his sisters, part of a family contingent that traveled to Rome to be with him as he received his pallium. While the shirt is a nod to the renewed foundation of the auto industry in that Michigan city, the gift was meant more as a tribute to the foundation of the Tobin family that was formed in Detroit.

The oldest of 13 children born to Joseph and Marie Tobin, the archbishop grew up in a family that lived in one half of a duplex in Detroit for all of his childhood and youth. He once said of his late father, “He never once sent me to church. He took me with him. When I was kneeling next to him, I wanted to be like him.”

The love for his mother always shines through, too: “When people say, ‘Mrs. Tobin, how wonderful!—13 children and they all went to college,’ her response is, ‘How wonderful—13 children and they all practice their faith.’ ”

He has also noted about growing up in a family of 13 children, “We learned to live with diversity because it’s hard to be selfish if you have one bathroom in the house and eight sisters.”

That foundation—touched by the influence that all sisters have on keeping brothers humble even as they are extremely proud of them—showed in the way that Archbishop Tobin approached his pallium and the pilgrimage with a combination of humility and shared joy.

“There’s something about him and every one of his family members,” said Ralph Nowak, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis. “You meet them and you feel you’ve known them for 30 years. That’s a gift to be so welcoming. This has been his week, not ours. But he’s been the perfect host, making sure we’re as comfortable as his family. He’s a very gracious man.”

United in faith

On the last day of the pilgrimage, the pilgrims lined up in the security checkpoint area of the Rome airport when they noticed a familiar presence waiting for them. Dressed in sandals, blue jeans and a different black T-shirt, Archbishop Tobin came to the airport on July 2 to personally say goodbye to the pilgrims, friends and family members who came to Rome with him.

With each person, he took time to thank them for coming, often adding a personal connection about them that he had learned during the pilgrimage. Watching the archbishop in those moments recalled a comment that was shared by retired Father Frank Eckstein shortly after the pallium Mass.

“To me, Archbishop Tobin and Pope Francis are on the same page as far as personality,” said Father Eckstein, who has served the archdiocese as a priest for 55 years. “They both strike me as very humble men who are very approachable, and it is comforting to be in their presence.”

While the pilgrims returned home, the archbishop stayed in Italy for several more days.

He wanted to try to connect with as many of the “priests, religious, lay people, musicians, poets and food workers” whom he had become friends with during his previous 21 years of serving the Church in Rome.

It’s where he served as the superior general of the worldwide Redemptorist religious order. It’s also where he ministered as secretary—second in charge—in the Vatican’s Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, helping to guide the life and the ministry of 1 million men and women religious around the world.

His extended stay also included being the principal celebrant at a nuptial Mass for the marriage of a young woman whose family he had befriended during his time in Rome.

He also hoped to spend time in Primavalle, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome where he often had cared for the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities.

At every turn possible, he seemed to strive to make connections of the heart and the soul while also keeping the focus on the goal of his journey. The essence of that commitment came through as he reflected upon celebrating Mass in the chapel above the tomb of St. Peter.

“I was conscious of being a pilgrim, renewing the eternal covenant with my people, standing a few feet from the tomb of St. Peter and a few hundred feet from his successor,” he said. “I realize in all the churches of central and southern Indiana that we are united in the same way through the body and blood of Christ.”

United in faith—it could be the motto of the pilgrimage and the archbishop who led it. †

(Click here for more photos and information about the pallium pilgrimage.)

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