Over the weekend, Pope Francis visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo. That meeting was unprecedented. No Bishop of Rome has succeeded a living predecessor since St. Clement V in 1294, some six centuries ago. At that time, the New World had not been discovered, Christopher Columbus had not been born, and Martin Luther’s parents had not been born. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church, had not been canonized a saint and his doctrines were still recovering from the Paris condemnations. But, the world has changed.
As Pope Francis’ helicopter lifted off the ground and headed toward Castel Gandolfo for his historic meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, pilgrims inside St. Peter’s Square and along the Via della Conciliazione transmitted images of the scene on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the new social media. A 20-something Canadian broadcast the scene on Skype to his girlfriend back home.
Before visiting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis met with His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the Patriarch of Alexandria of the Coptics. After that meeting, Pope Francis left the Domus Sancta Marthae at 11:45am. He took a fifteen minute flight to Castel Gandolfo from the Vatican at 11:50am. At ten minutes after twelve noon, the flight arrived at the papal summer residence. Upon arrival, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI met and embraced Pope Francis. Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, the Bishop of Albano, and Dr. Saverio Petrillo, the director of the papal villas of Castel Gandolfo, welcomed Pope Francis, as well. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rode together to the Apostolic Palace. Once there, the two men met for some 45 minutes in a sealed room of the castle. Lunch was served afterward and Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the Prefect of the Papal Household, and Monsignor Alfred Xuareb, Pope Francis’ private secretary, attended the luncheon.
This morning, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass for the commencement of Holy Week or Palm Sunday, which the Italians call “Domenica delle Palme e della Passione del Signore.” The Mass was celebrated beneath the sagrato inside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, but pilgrims spilled out of the square into the Via della Conciliazione.
In advance of the Mass, pilgrims purchased palm and olive branches from street vendors before heading into St. Peter’s Square. Some branches were distributed to the faithful inside the square, but most of the faithful brought their own branches to the Mass.
The branches distributed inside St. Peter’s Square came from the Directorate of the Villas of Castel Gandolfo. Young pilgrims walking in procession into the square ahead of Pope Francis at the start of the Mass bore branches from the Cammino Neo-Catecumenale, one of the popular ecclesial movements here in Rome and in Latin America. Branches adorning the altar and the square itself came from the Italian region of Puglie. And, the so-called “palmurelli” or large palm branches – which lined the main aisle – came from the communities of Sanremo and Bordighera.
At the beginning of the Mass, several hundred persons processed into the piazza ahead of Pope Francis. The procession included pilgrims, priests, bishops, and cardinals. Young pilgrims were included in the procession, including representatives from the Diocese of Rome itself, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the San Lorenzo Center, and diverse regions of the world. The Mass began in front of the obelisk in the center of the square. There, the Gospel was proclaimed in Italian and pilgrims’ palms were blessed. Cardinals Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Bishop Josef Clemens, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and Bishop Filippo Iannone, Vice-Regent of the Diocese of Rome, concelebrated the Mass with Pope Francis.
Although today marked the beginning of Holy Week and the celebration of Palm Sunday, it was the XXVIII World Youth Day, as well. The theme of the occasion was taken from Matthew 28:19: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Blessed Pope John Paul II held the first international meeting in Rome in 1986 after the promulgation of his Letter Dilecti Amici. Today’s World Youth Day will be commemorated at the international level this coming summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between July 23 and 28.