Up-Close Encounter with Pope Francis
VATICAN CITY—The International Forum of Catholic Action (IFCA), together with Accion Catolica of Italy, sponsored the II International Congress on Catholic Action in Vatican City, Rome from April 27 to 30, 2017 with the theme “Catholic Action is Mission, with everyone and for everyone”.
As former National President of Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas (“Laiko”), I attended the Congress, together with incumbent Laiko President Zenaida Capistrano and husband Mr. Jose Capistrano, Laiko Immediate Past President Dr. Amelita Dayrit-Go, Ms. Vicky Santiago and Ms. Aimee Go. I previously attended the First Congress in Romania in 2012 during my watch as Laiko President.
What we look forward about the 2nd Congress was the participation of His Holiness Pope Francis on Day 1. So, early morning of April 27, we proceeded to the left side of Sant’ Ufficio Square of St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening of the Congress. We passed through strict security, having our bags checked through x-ray machine. Then, we had another security check by the Swiss Guards before entering the compound, this time, to make sure that we were in the guest list and we wore the corresponding ID issued by the Congress organizers.
Since the first in the programme was the celebration of the Holy Eucharist inside St. Peter’s Basilica, we walked through the grounds of the Vatican protected by umbrella from the drizzles of that cold morning. We passed by Casa Marta, Pope Francis’ residence, and entered the Basilica through the side door.
The Holy Mass was presided by the Vatican Secretary of State His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin and concelebrated by 6 Cardinals, 27 Archbishops/Bishops and 51 priests from different countries. 220 lay delegates from 50 countries participated in the Mass.
After the Mass, we proceeded to Aula delle Paolo VI or the Synod Hall, again passing through Casa Marta which is just beside the Synod Hall. Ms. Chiara Finocchietti of IFCA Secretariat welcomed the delegates while IFCA Secretariat President/Coordinator Mr. Emilio Inzaurraga presented the Day’s Programme.
The following topics were discussed: “With Evangelii Gaudium as our compass: Catholic Action school of missionary disciples” and “We are mission, lay people who journey together”. The discussion was terminated with the unexpected early arrival of Pope Francis inside the Synod Hall and amidst the joyful, happy and highly-spirited welcome by the delegates-participants.
Pope Francis received the participants in the IFCA Congress. He talked about the charism of Catholic Action as “one of lay-led missionary discipleship: faithful to the Pope, rooted in the local Church, and active in service especially and particularly at the parish level.”
Speaking in Spanish (the participants had the benefit of earphones wherein Pope Francis’ talk as well as the discussions in the Congress were translated in English, Italian and French). Pope Francis set aside his prepared speech and talked in details, exhorted and encouraged the participants to renew the mission of Catholic Action “by recovering the original sense of the apostolate and applying that sense of self-understanding to the concrete conditions encountered in contemporary life.”
Pope Francis encouraged the participants “to foster renewal by becoming prayerfully active, outgoing, docile to the Spirit, willing to sacrifice, and open to surprises.” He told the participants not only to actively proclaim the Word but must also be actively involved in reaching out to those in the periphery and outskirts of society. The Pope spoke further that concerns, efforts and assistance must be extended to the poor, the sick and those who are imprisoned. The young must talk to the elderly because old people thinks that they can no longer help and live an active life and they become bored and hopeless.
Pope Francis told the participants to be outgoing or “en salida” for Catholic Action is a community of missionary of disciples. A Catholic lay person is essentially a missionary. He leads a missionary life.
He further said that the parish is not an outdated institution. Catholic Action is characterized by its immersion in the parish, in communion with the particular Church and the Universal Church. “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment of hearing God’s Word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”
The participants were divided into 16 groups to take part in the missionary experience or going out/reaching out. Likewise, the participants were divided per continent to discuss what Catholic Actions are in the respective countries. The 3rd time the participants were grouped, is in accordance with the age group – to state the action plan on how to organize Catholic Action per age level, the problems and solutions that may be encountered.
Indeed, Pope Francis was very close to the lay people; the IFCA President informed the participants that he had several meetings with the Pope to discuss the topics that should be taken up during the Congress. The Pope took active part in the preparation for the Congress.
The Congress schedule was supposed to end on April 29, however, due to the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to Egypt, the Congress was extended to April 30, when the Pope would receive the participants as the guests during the 150th anniversary of Catholic Action in Italy. It was a very big event in Italy.
Before delivering his talk, the Holy Father was presented with several gifts from the children including “an English-language psalter found aboard a boat carrying migrants to Lampedusa, thousands of whom drown during the course of the dangerous voyage. The fate of the psalter’s owner is not known.”
I considered myself truly-blessed, that though I did not get the opportunity to kiss the Pope’s ring, I had the rare opportunity to listen to his talk, up close and personal and to be an arm’s length away from him.
A day earlier, my sister Vicky and I were also able to see Pope Francis at close range during the Pope’s General Audience at St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican Office granted Vicky’s request to attend the Udienza Generale, and we were given seats.
As of press time, we are also included in the guest list (with corresponding ID) to attend the 150th anniversary of Catholic Action in Italy at St. Peter’s Square.
On Day 2 of the Congress, Vicky and I were given the opportunity to offer Wine and water and the hosts during the Offertory. Also on Day 2, the Italian TV interviewed me as to what is Catholic Action in the Philippines and what is my role.
On Day 3, I was assigned to prepare and deliver one of the Prayers of the Faithful.