|Two seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville, Dillon Barker, carrying the crucifix, and Andy Forsythe, at right, carrying a candle, served Mass for Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Jan. 1, 2016. They were among the third year seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, who served at the Mass and met the pope. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano|
Two seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville started the New Year off with the once-in-a-lifetime experience of meeting and serving Mass with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
“I can’t express my joy in words,” said Andy Forsythe, a third year seminarian for the Diocese of Nashville.
Forsythe, along with fellow Nashville seminarian Dillon Barker and their third year classmates from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, served Mass for Pope Francis on Jan. 1, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. “It was an unforgettable experience,” said Barker.
After rehearsing for the Jan. 1 morning Mass, the seminarians vested in the Chapel of the Pietà, then lined up awaiting their brief encounter with Pope Francis. “He shook each seminarian’s hand. He wished us Happy New Year and told us to pray for him,” said Barker.
While Barker had studied in Rome previously and seen Pope Francis from a distance, “it’s another thing entirely to meet him and shake his hand … to realize this is the Vicar of Christ talking to me.”
For the last several years, third year seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum have had the opportunity to serve a Mass for the Holy Father at the Vatican. Since the Josephinum is the only pontifical seminary in the United States, meaning it is under direct authority of the Holy See, it enjoys a unique relationship with the Vatican.
A Josephinum donor established a fund for third year seminarians, who are preparing for their ordination to the transitional diaconate, to attend a winter retreat in Rome and Assisi, Italy. An arrangement between the Josephinum and the Vatican has given the seminarians an opportunity to serve at one papal Mass during that retreat time.
Being on the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, among the most iconic landmarks in the history of the Catholic Church, was certainly a different experience than serving at a typical Mass. “When you’re 20 feet from the tomb of St. Peter, things take a different tone,” said Forsythe.
Pope Francis may draw the attention of a celebrity, but remains a humble servant, the seminarians observed. “In spite of all the cameras flashing constantly, the security guards, TV cameras, a giant hodge-podge of activity, the pope did a good job of pointing us toward who our eyes should be on – Jesus,” said Forsythe.
Serving the Mass together was also a unique moment for the two seminarians who are on track to be ordained priests together for the Diocese of Nashville in 2017. “It was particularly special to walk down the aisle of St. Peter’s shoulder to shoulder with Dillon,” said Forsythe. “The next time we’ll be doing that is at our ordination,” when the two are ordained to the transitional diaconate at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in March.
Barker and Forsythe, along with Rodolfo Rivera, will be ordained to the transitional diaconate on March 19 at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral. Rivera and Deacon Daniel Steiner are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in June.