I had a blessing in November when the bishops of New York State were on their Ad Limina Apostolorum — I was given the opportunity to meet the Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
As a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn in New York, and as the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, I was invited to accompany the many bishops in New York State when they met with the Pope. Even though I had been serving in Rome even before Francis became pope, this was the very first time I had actually met him. As a priest studying for my doctorate in sacred theology, I was present, along with thousands of others in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 — the evening when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected by the College of Cardinals in their conclave. Since that time, I have had the opportunity as a priest living and working in Rome to concelebrate Holy Mass with the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica at these huge Masses. The last of which I had concelebrated was of one of my favorite saints, St. John Henry Newman (someone whom I pray will be named in the future as a Doctor of the Church). Yet, this past November was the first time I actually met the Pope.
As I greeted the Pope, the realization hit me that Francis is the successor to St. Peter, the very first pope — the one whom the Lord Jesus had named the Rock, the “Petrus,” on which he would build his Church. Although it was a very different experience from meeting Pope St. John Paul II — I had served Mass for him in 1996 and then met him at an audience the day before my ordination to the diaconate in 1997 — these were, to be honest, almost mystical experiences for me! It was a beautiful confirmation of the reality of apostolic succession. Peter’s life and ministry continues in the papacy today. There is a living connection from Peter, Linus, Cletus and Clement in the early Church to our contemporary popes, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
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