This year being the Year of Faith, the Gozitan Seminarians, accompanied by their superiors, joined other participants from 66 countries for the International Meeting of Seminarians, Novices and all those who are discerning God’s call to them. This meeting was held in Rome. We left for Italy on the 24th June and we were lodged at the residence of the Compassionate Nuns close to the parish of St Ignatius of Antiochia.
The first few days of the pilgrimage were days of relaxation. We spent the two days in Assisi, the city of St Francis. We visited various churches and places of interest, including the Basilica of St Francis, Santa Chiara, San Damiano and Santa Maria degli Angeli, better known as Porziuncola. We paid a visit also to La Verna, the place where tradition holds that St Francis received the stigmata. We then visited the city of Pompey and the ancient city which was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius about the year 79 A.D. We attended Mass in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Pompey and we met Mgr Tommaso Caputa, bishop of this city. Up to some months ago, Bishop Caputa was the Apostolic Nuncio for Malta. While at Pompey, we also climbed Mount Vesuvius.
On Thursday, 4th July, the programme prepared at the Vatican for the Seminarians and Novices was launched. The programme started with a pilgrimage to the Tomb of St Peter where we made a Declaration of Faith. On the following day, many churches in Rome held Catechesis in various languages. In the afternoon, we visited the Catacombs of San Kallistu where many martyrs and saints, including 16 popes, are buried. On that same evening, we took part in an International Feast at Piazza del Campidoglio. Various singing groups participated and some guests talked about their experience associated with their vocation.
The climax of this pilgrimage was reached during two meetings with Pope Francis. The first audience with the Pope was on Saturday, 6th July, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. The Irish group The Priests entertained the congregation while some guests talked about their experiences. Then it was the turn of the Pope to address the audience. He said that the priest had to live his vocation in joy because there is no holiness in austerity. He said that the priest had to love the poor in a special way by leading a simple life without excessive luxuries. Following the audience with the Pope, we participated in a Marian vigil of prayer in the gardens of the Vatican where we said the Rosary.
The International Meeting came to an end on Sunday morning when Pope Francis said Mass in the Basilica of St Peter. At noon we joined the Pope in the prayer of the Angelus, said in the Vatican square. That same evening, we were joined by a number of Gozitan priests who are offering their services in various parishes in Rome. On Monday, our last day in Rome, we visited Greccio where St Francis built his first crib, the Sactuary of Fonte Colombo and also the Cascate delle Marmore.
The days we spent as a community in Rome for the International Meeting have surely served to strenghten our qualities and to look at the priest as a human being who, in his simple ways, is always ready to be of service to others.