Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 21, 2013
Catholic theologians and faithful have pondered for 2,000 years why the Catholic Church has its center in Rome rather than in Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ died and rose.
The basic reason is because Jesus, in announcing his architectural plans for the Church he had come from heaven to earth to build, gave it a personal rather than a geographical foundation. “You are Peter [rock],” he said to a fisherman from Bethsaida named Simon Johnson (son of John), “and on this rock I will build my Church.”
Because that “Rock” eventually came to Rome and died there preaching the Gospel, his successor as the leader of the Roman Christians became in the early Church the heir of Peter’s vocation and mission. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia, the early Christians would sing: “Wherever Peter is, there is the Church.”
But theologians also said that it was fitting that Peter ended up leading the Church in Rome and sanctifying its soil with his blood. Rome was the administrative center of the Roman Empire. All roads not only led to Rome but they likewise led from Rome. It was where Peter and his successors the popes could carry out their task of strengthening their siblings in the faith, and it was from there that those fortified fellows could be sent out to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Every American who prepares to be a priest in Rome is strongly aware of this two-fold fittingness, of coming and going. As we prepare with our classmates to leave the seminary, there’s a banquet held in our honor. The vice-rector calls us by name and says, as was heard in my case, “Father Roger Landry, sent to proclaim the Gospel in the Diocese of Fall River.”
On the actual morning we leave, the seminary peals the bells as we depart, a symbol that we’re called in our priestly work to become bell-like, heralding the presence of Christ and summoning people to worship him.
Nourished a stone’s thrown from the “rock” on whom Christ built his Church, we’re then cast across the Atlantic to become rocks of faith back home.
As I prepare to file the last column in this series, I can’t stop returning to that experience of leaving the North American College Seminary in June 2000, when I was commissioned to take all that I had learned in Rome and share it on these shores.
I think the reason is because the amazing and surprising experiences of the past fortnight have been like a second seminary experience, a seminary of the Holy Spirit.
Just as during my training for the priesthood, during these last two weeks I prayed continuously. Before I saw white smoke, I was praying for the Cardinals, for the Church, and for whoever would be elected. After Pope Francis was introduced, I prayed not only with him but for him, as he has insistently begged us to do.
Just as during my five years at the Roman Universities, I studied and learned so much. I traded libraries and lecture halls for restaurants, lobbies, hotel rooms, and television studios, but what a learning experience — and what great teachers I had among my seasoned colleagues.
Just as with my initial period of formation, so this time I had to write a steady stream of essays and take scores of oral “exams,” with the exception that these essays and exams were being seen and graded by far more than one professor!
And just as my seminary years filled me with enthusiasm to return home to share the treasure I had received, so now I have returned with renewed fire to share the wonders of what I was privileged to witness.
The same Holy Spirit who Catholics believe guided the Cardinals to change Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s life forever has, over the same period of time, changed mine.
And I hope that through these articles on the conclave, Pope Francis’ stunning election and inspiring first week, he has — if only a little — changed yours, too.
Thanks for reading!