Sunday, October 05, 2008


Yunno, in the last seven months since my last post, by far the biggest thing (and one of the best days of my life) that happened was being picked to serve the Holy Father's Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20. Here is an article from The Record on the day.

(I'm on the far right in this pic)

Archdiocesan priests, seminarians assist at Mass
Marnie McAllister
Record Staff Writer
Priests concelebrate at papal liturgy; 2 seminarians are altar servers

NEW YORK — While the faithful from the Archdiocese of Louisville watched the pageantry of the papal Mass from the Yankee Stadium stands, a group of men from the Archdiocese of Louisville assisted in celebrating Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

Among them were 18 priests of the archdiocese and two seminarians in formation to become diocesan priests.

They prepared for the liturgy in the bowels of the legendary baseball park. The locker room was their sacristy. They gathered there for a prayer before the liturgy — just as countless ball players have done before a big game.

The Yankees’ dugout served as their vestibule.

That’s where local seminarians Christopher Rhodes and Matthew Hardesty were standing when the Holy Father’s popemobile arrived. They were within reach of the vehicle, they said.

“He was two feet away. We were calling, ‘Papa! Papa!’ and he looked down and a huge smile came over his face,” said Hardesty. “We were waving and shouting at him. We were overcome by that. I had tears in my eyes. We felt distinctly and individually blessed by God.”

That was just the beginning of an historic day for the young men who were among a select group of seminarians invited to serve at the papal Mass. Two seminarians from each of the five archdioceses being honored were invited to take part in the liturgy.

In addition, more than 18 priests from the Archdiocese of Louisville took part in the Mass — some concelebrated on the papal platform and others dispensed Communion to the crowd of 60,000 worshippers in the stands.

Rhodes, who attends St. Meinrad School of Theology, said during an interview April 21 that he is still in awe of the experience.

“Who would have guessed that a guy from Texas, converted from a charismatic tradition, would end up in Yankee Stadium in equal view of the pope?” he wondered.

Rhodes traveled to New York on one of the nine buses from the Archdiocese of Louisville. His job during the liturgy was to show the concelebrating priests where to go on the platform and around the altar.

They practiced repeatedly prior to the celebration — while the crowd listened to the “Concert of Hope.” They were prepared to serve with all the pomp and circumstance required by the occasion.

But something changed when the pope came into view of the crowd.

“I was in position, leading the priests in, when all of a sudden, you could hear the crowd,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening. But they were responding to his entrance.

“We were supposed to act dignified and distinguished,” he said. “But we couldn’t help it. The priests and bishops were pulling out cameras and cell phones, taking pictures. They were like little kids. He (Pope Benedict) is Papa to them, and they were like children so happy to see their father come home to the U.S.”

Hardesty, a seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, noted that the enthusiasm of the crowd and of the participants in the liturgy was one centered on love. While the frenzy of cameras and uproarious cheers at times had the look and sound of a rock concert, the feelings were motivated by love for the Holy Father, he said, noting that’s an important distinction.

“It really made it something special to be a part of,” he said. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Hardesty was selected to be a torch-bearer — along with five other seminarians — at the Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayer, he was stationed at the front left corner of the altar.

“During the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ we knelt there with our torches and were no more than six feet from where the Holy Father was consecrating the Eucharist,” he said. “Being so close was amazing. When the ‘Our Father started,’ we rose and genuflected. That was our big part.”

Hardesty and Rhodes both noted that prior to the liturgy the servers were feeling tense and stressed. But those feelings dissipated when the papal master of ceremony, Msgr. Guido Marini, arrived ahead of the pope, said Hardesty.

Msgr. Marini “was so calm and professional in a situation that can really make you frazzled. He very gently corrected us and told us what to do” during practice.

“Then, just before the pope arrived, he gathered us all together in the sacristy, and he prayed with us to prepare us for Mass. We were so impressed,” said Hardesty. “We felt we were at the feet of a mentor or father. He was like a parish priest.”

The monsignor reminded them, “It’s not about getting caught up in how you look; it’s about reverence and worship of Christ in our midst,” said Hardesty. “And he asked us to pray for him. We were really touched by that. You would think in a liturgy of that scope you wouldn’t have time for that.

“It helped us to calm down and focus on the fact that this is for the glorification of God and not because it’s on EWTN or Fox,” he said.

Among the priests from the Archdiocese of Louisville who concelebrated Mass with the pope were Fathers William Hammer and Charles D. Walker, both members of the archdiocesan college of consultors, and Franciscan Father Dismas Veeneman, pastor of St. Paul Church.

Father Walker, associate pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church, said he saw Pope John Paul II on three occasions. So a papal event was nothing new.

But the experience at Yankee Stadium was the first opportunity he’s had to concelebrate Mass with a pope.

“It was much more special than I thought it would be,” he said, noting that the pope came within about 10 feet of him when he came onto the platform. “At other papal Masses I’ve been to (there have been) 700,000 or a million (people in attendance).

“I had Mass last night at Our Lady of Consolation,” he said during an interview late Sunday night at JFK Airport. “I had the same readings and prayed the same prayers. But they meant more to me today. They had more impact.”

Father Walker and Father Hammer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral and St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky., said they could feel the spirit of the Archdiocese of Louisville contingent raining down from the stands as they cheered for the Holy Father.

Father Hammer was on the front row of concelebrants seated to the left of the altar, and the pope came within three feet of him, he said.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Father Hammer. “The spiritual energy you draw from the Holy Father is a once in a lifetime experience. People use that term a lot. But it was a singular experience.

“I had a sense I was part of something much bigger than anything I was participating in,” he added. “I felt very much connected to the people back in Bardstown and Fairfield. I told them I would take their spirit with me.”

Father Veeneman said the experience was “pretty amazing.” It was his first papal Mass, and he was surprised to find himself in a second-row seat, he said.

“It was a special occasion for Louisville, and I felt honored to be a part of that,” he said during a bus ride to John F. Kennedy Airport following the liturgy. “Celebrating the Eucharist with the Holy Father is a whole different experience — (considering) who he is and who he represents.”

Other priests who took part in the celebration included: Fathers Joseph Atcher, Bernard Breen, Michael Casagram, Philip Erickson, James Kent, William Medley, Pius Poff, Joseph Rankin, Nick Rice, Joel Rogers, David Sanchez, John Schork, Jeffrey Shooner, Thomas Smith, J. Mark Spalding, Charles Thompson and Abbot Damien Thompson of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Ky.

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