Since the commencement of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been a crowd-puller. This informed the earlier apprehension concerning the Ash Wednesday Mass which is traditionally celebrated at the Basilica of Santa Sabina. There were fears that the celebration could be moved to the Basilica of St Peters which is bigger and can accommodate more.
However, contrary to the fears and in keeping with the age old tradition, Pope Francis came to Santa Sabina to celebrate the first station Mass of the Lenten Season. The crowd also came, so the Basilica and the square outside the Basilica were filled to capacity.
As usual, the celebration started with a procession from the Benedictine Basilica of Sant’Anselmo. After the introductory prayer, the procession began with the Dominican and Benedictine friars on opposite sides and the Holy Father at the rear of the procession. The friars chanted the Litany of Saints along the procession which terminated at the Basilica of Santa Sabina and the Holy Mass began immediately.
The Holy Father based his homily on the short passage, “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). In this time of grace, he invited all to a journey of conversion. He reminded us of the three elements of this journey (Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving) which will help us to avoid the domination of the things of this world. Finally, he spoke of the urgent need for us to return to the Lord who is ever faithfully and merciful and always ready to start afresh with us.
After the homily, the Holy Father blessed the ashes and it was first imposed on him by the Titular Cardinal of the Basilica of Santa Sabina, Jozef Cardinal Tomko. The Holy Father then imposed the ashes on the cardinals present, some Dominican and Benedictine friars and some selected members of the faithful. The assisting ministers who were made up of Dominican and Benedictine friars imposed ashes and distributed communion to the faithful.
The friars of the Convent of Santa Sabina had been secretly nursing the desire to have the Holy Father visit the community and meet with them after the Mass as some Popes did in the past. More so, at his last private audience with him, fr Bruno Cadoré invited him to visit the convent and meet with the community after the Mass.
Indeed, the wishes of the brothers were fulfilled when the Holy Father was led into the cloister by fr Bruno after the Mass. The brothers were already in the cloister waiting for him. He was introduced to each of the brothers individually and he had a handshake with each. It is also interesting that we were all issued tickets to meet with the Holy Father despite the fact that we were meeting him in the cloister of our convent. However, it was a brief but memorable encounter for all the brothers.
(6 March 2014)