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Greetings from the Eternal City
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ROME - South Africa has come alive now with the World Cup.  The bars here in Rome feature signs luring in soccer-hungry fans.  For an occasional glass of beer or wine, and maybe a piece of pizza, you can station yourself in front of a large screen for hours on end, cheering for your favorite team.

I ought to do so, out of solidarity with my parishioners, most of whom are from Mexico.  It would probably be safe, as none of tonight’s competitors suffer from the presence of hooligans in Rome - at least, I hope not.

But I didn’t come to the Eternal City for soccer.  Here, during the past three days, thousands of priests from around the world have gathered to celebrate the closing of a year dedicated to the strengthening and healing of the Catholic Church by means of focusing on the life of its ministers.

I would have been inclined to observe the year’s closing on this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus back in Stockton, with my parishioners, carrying out my priestly duties and ironically be able to catch more of the World Cup - had I needed it - than I ever could here in Europe.  But Fr. Joseph Illo, a priest friend, has been studying here in Rome this past year, and so six of us came to join him for the ceremonies here, and then to travel together.

Due to free flights from the East Coast, I began by flying JetBlue overnight on Sunday.  This put me in New York City for a twelve-hour layover.  

I had done the same four years ago.  That time, met by a friend from New Jersey, I’d begun at Ground Zero.  Then, after eating at a famous deli, we ferried to Liberty Island to behold its inspiring statue.  From there, it was only logical to visit Ellis Island, where over 25 million immigrants were able to begin realizing the dream for which Lady Liberty was consecrated: that of living, free, in the land of promise flowing with milk and honey.

By the time we returned, it was too late to visit St. Patrick’s Church, one of the greatest monuments to the Catholic presence in this country.  That would have to wait until my return this past Monday.  In fact, my friend’s relatives came in this time, meeting me at the Franciscan church where Fr. Michael Judge has served and resided.  He was one of the first emergency responders to die on 9-11, becoming the unofficial patron saint of them all.

The road to St. Patrick’s took us through the most entertaining district of NYC, and even up the Rockefeller Tower, with its breathtaking view of the city.  From there, we simply crossed the street to the biggest Catholic church in the United States.  I was grateful to participate in the noon mass.

Following Mass, I was amazed to hear that Mother Teresa’s relics were going to be on display for veneration that afternoon – and only that day.

In a future article, I’ll describe more in detail what this “veneration” means, and why we circulate or protect “relics” of people we consider to be saints.

For now, the Internet Café is closing, and so too are the Convent doors where we priests are staying.  I’ll just close with these words, shared with friends, regarding the closing mass for the Year of Priests, in which we participated this morning, at which Pope Benedict XVI presided:

“We had a tough time with the long delay in entering St. Peter’s this morning and with the hot sun beating down, but we six brother priests at St. Peter’s figured it was a fitting penance for all the things that have caused the church pain and suffering, and a small price to pay for such a great blessing of being present with thousands of other priests and so many lay people and consecrated sisters and brothers who were there to support us.  I too thought the prayer of consecration was especially beautiful.  Even though I had to strain hard to see it, my eyes being blinded by the light and somehow not functioning well in the heat, I did make an effort to see and to own every word of that entrustment through which the Holy Father led us all.

“What a beautiful thing, to celebrate this mass on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And how convenient that the World Cup wouldn’t begin until tonight!  It was very gracious of the organizers to have chosen this evening, allowing us to conclude our gathering undistracted and to find some Roman watering hole in which to watch the opening ceremonies.  God bless you all, and may the Good Lord fulfill Benedict XVI’s admonition to the priests of the United States this morning, “Be faithful to the vows you have taken.”    -Fr. Dean McFalls, with Frs Joseph Illo, Matthew O’Donnell, Peter Carota, Alvaro Delgado and Sam West.

(Ps: Fr. Matt marked his 15th anniversary as a priest June 10 here in Rome.)