POPE Francis has committed to praying for Queensland after meeting with Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary staff and seminarians in December.
Seminary rector Monsignor Tony Randazzo made a request to have 12 seminary students, two deacons, and three religious attend the Pope’s daily Mass, celebrated in the Holy Father’s private chapel at Casa Santa Marta.
The seminary group was on pilgrimage in Rome in December.
Pope Francis is known to regularly invite up to 50 people to his daily Masses, many of whom are the “little people of Rome” including cleaners, cooks or local police.
On December 23, the Queensland seminarians were among those privileged few chosen to celebrate Mass privately with Pope Francis.
It was surprise news for the seminarians who were in Vatican City as part of a pilgrimage through the Holy Land and Rome.
Officials told Monsignor Randazzo it was the first time an entire seminary had celebrated daily Mass at Casa Santa Marta with Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is the third pope that the Italian-Australian monsignor has met, but said it was “always exciting” to meet the successor of St Peter.
“There is always a grace when you meet Christ in the Eucharist, but to have the successor of Peter leading you in that encounter? I never lose that excitement,” Msgr Randazzo said.
“Imagine what it’s like for a young man in the seminary.”
Although Msgr Randazzo had known “weeks before” that he would be taking the group to have daily Mass with the Pope, he did not expect to be asked to be the principal concelebrant with Pope Francis.
“The officials ushered me in and told me I would be the principal concelebrant at the Mass,” he said.
“I thought, ‘Oh heavens above’ and was a little over-awed.”
After Mass, Pope Francis greeted each of the visitors and requested he meet the Queensland seminarians last.
He spent 15 minutes speaking with and taking individual photos with each seminarian.
Msgr Randazzo said the Pope’s way of engaging with not only the seminarians but with others who have met him, showed his high level of “pastoral intimacy”.
“When it came time for me to meet him face to face, I shook his hand and kissed his ring, and he looked at me, pointed and said, ‘I know you from somewhere’,” he said.
“I told him that I was the vice-director for the guest house where he had stayed while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.”
“Yes, I remember you,” Pope Francis said.
This interaction “amazed” Msgr Randazzo and he said that moment was a “wonderful model” for all priests and bishops.
“What the Pope is saying is that every person we meet is a possible relationship, a precious one, to us and to God,” he said.
“I was so inspired.”
Brisbane vocations director Fr Morgan Batt was also with the seminarians on the pilgrimage, and said Pope Francis’ presence was “magnetic”.
Fr Batt said the Pope’s request to meet with the Brisbane seminarians and deacons last among the guests communicated a deep pastoral care for vocations.
“He wanted us to go last, which said to me that he didn’t want to rush us,” Fr Batt said.
When Pope Francis eventually “wandered across” to meet the seminarians, he simply asked, “Who speaks Spanish?”
Fr Batt and another seminarian conversed with him in Spanish, which “delighted” the Pope.
He said he was “captivated” by the way the Pope was “at ease”.
“He didn’t say a lot, but his presence is magnetic,” Fr Batt said.
“He was more than just present to us, he was completely engaged.
“The overall impression was he was really enjoying meeting this group of young men from Brisbane.”
View the photo gallery below: