Today I attended the canonization Mass for saints Oscar Romero, Paul VI, foundress Maria Katharina Kasper of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, Ignacia Nazaria March Mesa, Nunzio Sulprizio, Francesco Spinelli, and Vincenzo Romano.

It was an extraordinary celebration of the lives of these workers in God’s field, to say the least.

Finding one’s way through the crowd and finding out which gates open when you have a press pass was an adventure in itself.  I found another priest flashing his press pass and being directed and redirected, so we decided to stick together until we got to our destination.  He was kind enough to share his pictures of the day which were much superior to mine.

There is a special terrace for members of the media.  And to get there one has to climb up a dark, ancient circular stairways made of endless stone steps.

I know I have a lively imagination, and I couldn’t help but feel I was ascending into a chapter of Eco Umberto’s novel –  The Name of the Rose — where, at the top of the staircase, we might find a monk bent over a parchment with his inked pen in hand – or worse . . . (background music crescendos…).

Once at the top, the heights felt a little dizzying and, I amused myself with thoughts of the air quality up there — if there was really 21% oxygen — and if not, how it might be more understandable to see how people in high places who are slow to interpret the “signs of the times.”  Maybe, they really just need more of the big O.  But alas, science assures me that the percentage of oxygen does not change with altitude, so my theory falls flat – again.

Jokes aside, most significant to me, was learning that Pope Francis wore Romero’s blood stained cincture (rope belt) while presiding at the Mass.  If there was one icon of the importance this day, it was that one.

Still, I couldn’t help regret  the reproduction of clericalism I witnessed at the Mass with cardinals, bishops, priests and dignitaries at the front.

Truer to Romero’s memory and martyrdom, I would have loved to see those front rows filled, not with bishops and cardinals dressed in their finery, but with the homeless of the streets of Rome (those who often walk without shoes and who don’t get the daily grace of decent food), along side the poor of El Salvador who know the healing and life giving power that emanates from  those who stand with them against the powerful interests that rob the them and their sisters and brothers of their God-given dignity and right to a decent life.   I would have loved to have see this day celebrated with each of them treated to a Romero-inspired meal, a new set of digs, and a safe place to sleep.

Still, it was inspiring to see the thousands of pilgrims in attendance.  And Pope Francis thanked those pilgrims, but also the dignitaries in attendance such as Queen Sofia, the President of the Italian Republic, the Presidents of Chile, El Salvador and Panama, as well as His Grace Rowan Williams and the delegation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In his homily, Francis recalled that Jesus was a radical in the way he loved.

You can read some excellent accounts of the canonization Mass coverage by CNS, NCR, NPR, and Vatican News, to name just a few.

You can also read Australian theologian and commentator Paul Collins’ sober assessment of the experiences and forces that shaped the man, Paul VI, here.

Following the Mass it was a joy to see Pope Francis move through the cheering crowds on his PopeMobile. As I watched security escort him up the steps of the vehicle, I wondered who gets the job of driving him around. So the geek in me did some reading.  There is a really good article about the history of popemobiles here, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the picture of Pope Francis in a little Fiat — his determination on full display to let the air out of papal pomposity where ever he can.  Early on, he decided to do away with the luxury, bullet-proof versions of the popemobile of his predecessors, an aspect of the Pope that I and so many other Catholics, love and admire.

As he moved through the crowd, he extended his hand so that he could connect with people.  At times, he stopped to kiss little bambinos and share the sunlight of his smile even as it was returned back to him a thousandfold.  I’m sure it renews him as these encounters allow him to share what is deepest in his heart — his love for each and every person.

So far, I have not been able to find out who drives the popemobile.  It may be, to quote Bob Woodward, “deep background” knowledge, but since I consider this newsletter a space for crowd-sourced news, please send me your best hunches or evidence on this — encrypted of course.

After the Mass, I had the good fortune of running into some of the pilgrims who travelled to Rome to celebrate the sainting of Maria Katharina Kasper, the foundress of  The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.  They came from Dernbach, Germany, the town where she grew up. Provincial Sr. Judith Diltz led a pilgrimage from the United States  and I was aware that canon lawyer, Sr. Kate Kuenstler, who works with parishioners whose parishes are being closed or merged in FutureChurch’s Save Our Parish Community work, was in town for the celebration. So, a big congratulations to Sr. Kate and all those who model their life after Catherine Kasper.  You inspired us with your generous service and work for the Gospel.

After the Mass, I spent time in a Piazza near me watching children run and play games with their parents cheering. It was a good way to finish the day and to remember God’s joy, laughter, and playfulness so apparent in the faces of Her children.