Yesterday on the Solemn Feast of Our Holy Father St. Augustine, we were greeted by outgoing Prior General, Fr. Bob Prevost, O.S.A. He encouraged us to "know ourselves" individually and as an Augustinian Order! He said that this should not only be an interior soul searching, but also be a going out into the world to give ourselves and the Gospel to others! This balance of introspection and reflection on ministry must be the basis of our lives from which we respond to the challenges of today's world.
Then after a festive lunch, we were off to the Church of St. Augustine for Mass with Pope Francis. In his homily, he spoke to us about different kinds of restlessness: in our spirituality, in our search for God, and in love. Like Augustine, we must deal with this restlessness within our minds and hearts and also within the world. He called us to be pastoral and to convey God's Love and Mercy to those we encounter and to live joyful lives!
Immediately after Mass, Pope Francis went to one of the side altars to kneel before the tomb of St Monica. He had mentioned the mother of Augustine during his homily, and referred to her as "Mama." What a personal way of thinking about her and the saints. Let us be grateful for our parents, living and deceased, for all they have done for us, especially for the gift of faith. I was happy to hear from my parents that you were able to see some of the Mass on computer and that you saw me particularly at Communion time.
I was honored and privileged to be among the 40 Augustinian leaders who had been chosen before the Mass to have a personal greeting with the Pope. Knowing this, I prepared a few comments in Spanish to say to him. Since the other delegates were unsure if they would get to greet him personally, Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A. gave me a ski hat from St. Rita, our Augustinian high school in Chicago, to present to the Pope.
I greeted the Holy Father and told him who I was and where I was from. Fr Bob Prevost then told him that I was "his" provincial and that I would be giving him his next assignment! The Pope got a little chuckle out of that comment.
I then continued by telling the Holy Father that I bring greetings from and ask for prayers for my parents, family, friends, and Augustinians from the Midwestern United States, Canada, and Northern Peru. Finally, I presented the St Rita hat as a small gift from the students and community at St. Rita High School in Chicago. He then had a big smile on his face and said it will be good for when it is cold. It was a very wonderful and warm exchange!
As the last of the chosen 40 friars approached, there was a brief moment after the Pope greeted the last one. There was a moment of anticipation when the remainder of the friars would discover whether the Pope would then leave or decide to greet them personally. The church burst out in applause when the Holy Father, with a huge smile on his face, motioned lovingly with his hands for the others to come forward! I was so happy at that moment, especially for my brothers Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A. and Fr. John Merkelis, O.S.A. This would be an even greater day because we shared this experience together.
That moment when the Pope gestured for all to come forward was a very significant moment for me. It made me reflect on how I make myself available to others, on how we must all make ourselves available to be agents of God's love, mercy, hope, and joy to all people! Let us build a church where all are indeed welcome to choose to be part of a community that is of one heart and one mind on the way to God!
Sincerely in Christ and St. Augustine,
Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D.
Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians