Father Barron sends an account of his last day in Rome before he makes his way back to Chicago tomorrow. Read about his chance encounters with several friends of Word on Fire as well as a last reflection on his Roman experience.
I'm heading home from my splendid Roman sojourn tomorrow. This morning I walked down the Via della Conciliazione to Radio Vaticana, where I was interviewed by a wonderful woman named Irene Lagan. Irene is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville and, some years ago, she spent a few months as a volunteer with Mother Teresa's sisters in Calcutta. With our filming trip to Calcutta right around the corner, I had a lot of questions for her. She said what almost everyone who has been to India says: the country is a total assault on your senses and a complete challenge to your assumptions. It will change you permanently. Our formal interview covered a lot of ground--evangelization, the sex abuse crisis, the Vatican, seminarians today--but the main focus was Word on Fire and the Catholicism Project. Whenever I tell the story of how Word on Fire was founded and how it has developed, I'm always struck by how graced we have been, how God has watched over us and blessed us from the beginning. The Word on Fire story, in its own minor way, is like the stories of so many movements in the history of the church that have flourished under God's protection.
On the way back from the interview, I ran into one of our fifth year priests at the North American and he excitedly told me that Fr. Marc Lenneman was in the square with a group of his students. Fr. Marc was an STL student in Rome when I was here three years ago, and we had become friends. He currently serves as chaplain at Carroll College in Helena Montana, and several months ago, he became an official ambassador for Word on Fire. Well, Fr. Marc is leading about twenty-five of his students on pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. I met Marc and his gang right next to the obelisk in the middle of St. Peter's Square, that obelisk that had stood in the middle of Nero's circus when St. Peter was crucified. I discovered that many of the students knew me because they'd seen the trailer and other videos on our website. Fr. Marc asked me to say a few words to the young people, and I took the opportunity to ask them some questions. "What," I asked, "will really reach younger people today? How do we preach the Gospel to your generation?" Though they know and respect the power of the media, they didn't say "the internet" or "podcasting" or "videos." They said, "personal witness." And that prompted me to tell them to be missionaries to their peers, to show them the beauty and joy that Catholicism brings. At that point, to my surprise and delight, Fr. Marc invited the kids to bless me. They placed their hands on my shoulders and head and then Fr. Marc led them in a beautiful blessing. After they had blessed me, I in turn blessed them.
This is precisely what I'm going to miss the most about Rome: in the course of one morning, you can meet someone from the States who has ministered in India and is giving you the opportunity to be heard all over the world, and you can be blessed by a group of idealistic college students from Montana who are standing next to the last thing that St. Peter saw on earth!
I want to thank all of my loyal Word on Fire readers and listeners who have prayed for me while I've been here in Rome. The book that I set out to write is, thank God, finished. And though I'll miss Rome, I'm ready to come home. God bless you all.