By Father Timothy Gollob
Special to The Texas Catholic
Pope Francis is coming to town! Let’s pray for him and with him. We are about to have an encounter with a special man of God.
Back in 1954, I found myself in a similar situation. I had been sent to Rome to attend the North American College. One of the blessings that all the new class of 1958 looked forward to sharing was an encounter with Pope Pius XII , who had been a living legend of the church since 1939.
I was assigned to a Camarata of new first theologians along with Ed Arnold of Memphis, Tenn., Laurence Breslin of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jerry Boudreaux of New Orleans, La. Our prefect-leader was Tom Kelly from Chicago, Ill., and our beadle was Mike Gillespie from Brooklyn, New York. They assured us that we would encounter many popes during our three times a week mandatory walks into the city of Rome to visit churches and museums.
It turned out that we did see the chapel of the popes in the catacombs of St. Callixtus and St. Priscilla. Also we saw the tombs of popes in many of the Roman churches. Especially moving was the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican in the crypt below the main altar of the basilica.
But a better encounter was soon to come to two of us new theologians. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Pope Pius XII had announced that day as the beginning of the Marian Year celebrating 100 years since the apparitions at Lourdes. Banners in honor of Mary had been sent from many countries to be presented to the pope.
The procession of banners began at the Basilica of St. Mary Major and marched several miles down the streets of Rome to the Basilica of St. Peter. It was the duty of six of the new theologians to escort the large banner from the Shrine of Mary in Washington, D.C. Two of us had the main poles and four others had ropes to steady the banner in the wind. As the procession came into the Piazza of St. Peter, we had little idea that we would be going into the church.
We took our turn with the groups from other countries as we climbed the steps from the piazza to the doors of the church. There a Papal Guard sized us up and informed us that only two could enter with the banner. It turned out that Jim Moynihan from Rochester, New York, and Tim Gollob from Dallas, Texas were tightly gripping the two poles. We entered and after traversing the long nave of the church found ourselves approaching the papal throne. Two monsignors took charge of the banner and we knelt before Pope Pius XII. He said in perfect English that he admired the church in the United States and we stammered out that we were “behind him all the way.” (Later our companions joked that the pontiff turned around to see who was in back of his throne!)
In the past decades, many have had the joy of seeing a pope in our United States. Pope Paul VI came in 1965. Pope John Paul II visited us seven times from 1979 through 1999 (which included two stopovers in Alaska). Pope Benedict XVI came in 2008.
Now Pope Francis is a-coming! We might be behind him in our love, in our mercy, in our openness to the poor and the world in which we live; but we can be with him in our prayers.
Father Timothy Gollob is the pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Oak Cliff.