The Privilege of being a Vatican Jubilee of Mercy Volunteer
The once in a lifetime opportunity of becoming a Vatican Jubilee of Mercy Volunteer was from the 1st of September to the 4th of September 2016. This was in preparation for the actual canonization of Mother Theresa now proclaimed a Saint. I represented the parish of St. Mary’s Catholic Church Parish in Ryde along with Ann Knowlson of St. Michael’s Church Bembridge. It was such an amazing journey to begin with. Highlights of the three day events were:
Day 1- 1st September
10:00 – 12:00 Registration and Briefing – Getting my official badge and certificate as an official volunteer wrought pride and pleasure. And with knowledge of basic Italian and the once elective high school Spanish language course were put into practice plus being fluent in English and Filipino helped immensely in communicating to vast number of pilgrimages. More importantly was meeting new friends who have the same aspirations whilst being of service to this international event spearheaded by Pope Francis.
14:00 – 1600 Eucharistic Adoration/Sacrament of Reconciliation – The Basilica of St. John the Baptist where four of us where assigned helped us deepen our faith in the perspective of a volunteer. First it was quite disappointing not so many people where at the sight but having to attend and receive the sacrament of Reconciliation myself was good enough. As we stood on the doorway of the Church, a priest passed by and greeted us all in English. Ann and I asked if we can have confessions in the same language of which he obliged provided the parish priest agreed which he did. There were also five other people who wanted to go to confessions but in Spanish essentially granted too. Hence, the most wonderful experience was when we were invited to kiss the relics of St Mary Magdalene that happened to be there at that time of the visitation duty.
1700 – 1730 Visit to the Basilica as our pilgrimage to the Holy Door
Entrance to this sacred place was an inexplicable moment preparatory to experiencing the merciful love of God Almighty. It can be likened to entering Heaven where one feels like nothing matters anymore except God. We three members managed to get in, even though it was past beyond tours of visitation. There were photographs taken, chats with some security people in the Vatican including glimpses of the Swiss guards while on actual double duty.
Day 2 – 2nd September
10:00 – 12:00 As a Scanner assigned on duty at the side entrance, I felt at first nervous but managed to get on as part of basic security protocol together with the ‘polizia’. All religious, priests and other lay ministers/volunteers were told to put their bags, remove watches, belts, cell phones, keys or coins and placed them on trays for scanning purposes and speaking any of the four languages was an actual baptism of fire.
12:30 – 1400 Pilgrimage of Catechists and Volunteers to the Holy Door. We then moved to this sacred place as our next assignment. Entrance to this holy door where everyone was requested such as men or boys remove their caps, women and girls be covered with veils or bandana (if wearing sleeveless tops) and photo taking were strictly prohibited at the entrance only. It was typical that in every home some norms have to be practiced as a sign of respect.
1500 – 1600 On Passing By and Meeting Missionaries of Charity and other Gazebos e.g., the Misericordia Volunteers’ Area. These was basically meet and greet seminarians and sisters of the religious congregation founded by Saint Mother Theresa and we even got medals and other mementos depicting the enormous life of this servant of God. I chuckled as I fondly recalled when a brother seminarian from Rome did whisper to me, ‘so you come from the famous Isle of Wight of England where the big Festivals and Bestivals are known for.’
3rd day – 4th September
6:00 – 10:00 Registration of Pilgrims attending the Mass and Canonization
Woke up at 4am and had a very early start but worth each moment of the day. Once again assigned as scanner at the main entrance where large number of delegates from all over the world came to attend the Mass of the Holy Father and witnessed his proclamation of a new saint in the church. At length when everybody were almost getting settled and the ceremony was about to start. A man in senior authority (polizia) was sat closing his eyes and came near him to join the quietness of the sacred moment. When I came close, he opened his eyes and looked at me and offered the seat as we were standing for about four hours of which I did graciously accepted the invitation seeing some were also briefly sitting knowing most people were already inside waiting for the Mass to start. I sat down in deep prayer and all of a sudden he tapped me on my shoulder and gave me a coin. It was a gold plated euro coin with the emblem of Pope Francis. Oh what a pleasant surprise from this man so I kissed his hand in gratitude for such a gift.
10:00 – 1100 At the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass, we as group of volunteers received the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. But just as when the event was almost finished we were told to move fast walking near the front of the main entrance at St. Peter’s where the Pope was. With tight clasped hands chained together, we became human barricades as the Holy Father went down the main stage. We controlled and made sure his passing on the frontage were secured and safe. I felt deep within the sense of pride protecting His holiness walking while at our backs were all the bishops and clergy standing and not moving waiting as he rode his mobile car waving to the huge crowd at the motorcade.
To some, it may simply be nothing ordinary but am forever grateful to my parish priest, Fr. Anthony Glaysher for this breathtaking experience.