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By Fr. Jose Parappully, SDB
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Kolkata, Apr. 1. .  ROME:  The members of the General Chapter had a private audience with Pope Francis in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican this morning, 31 March 2014.
The members left the Generalate at 9.15 in four buses and reached the Vatican around 10.00 am. We were able to enter St. Basilica of St. Peter through a private entrance.

Holy Mass was going on in the Basilica at the time. However, space had been reserved for us in front of the tomb of St. Peter and we were allowed in.

The Rector Major Fr. Angel Fernandez led the members in the Profession Faith in front of the tomb of St. Peter. We then turned to the statue of Don Bosco, which is right above the statue of St. Peter, a few metres away from the tomb. The Rector Major then led us in the prayer to Don Bosco.

After that we had ample time to pray personally as well as to take photographs. The Rector Major was very obliging and posed with several members individually and in small groups in front of the tomb of St. Peter.

Around 11.00 am we moved out of the Basilica toward the Clementine Hall. There were a number of places where we stopped as a group under the directions of the Swiss Guards.

Finally having walked up a number of flights of stairs (there were so many of them!) we entered the Clementine Hall and waited for the Pope.

The Clementine Hall, in memory of Pope Clement VIII, is remarkable for the frescoes that cover the ceiling and the walls. I was especially impressed by the representation of Goodness and Religion that stood out right in front, along with the Coat of Arms of Clement VIII.

The Rector Majors (emeritus and present) and members of the General Council (past and present) took their seats in the front and second row. In deference to the Argentine origins of Pope Francis, all the Chapter members from Argentina were called in front to sit just behind the Council Members.

At precisely 12.00 noon all the doors of the Clementine Hall were shut. There was a buzz of anticipation in the Hall, and curiosity! Which door will Pope Francis use to enter the hall? Will be come from the back door and walk through the aisle greeting those on either side?

After a few moments, the official Vatican photographers entered, microphone was set in place. And the Pope entered from the right, through one of the larger doors. The hall resounded with applause.

Pope Francis went straight to Pascual Chavez (Rector Major Emeritus) and greeted him with a warm embrace. He then moved to Fr. Angel Fernandez and did the same.

The Pope then moved to his chair, which was not on a platform but on the same level on the floor as the chairs of members in the audience.

Fr. Angel then read a brief message of greeting (I am sure the text will soon be available from ANS).

Pope Francis then read his message, in Italian. He looked up from his prepared text a few times and spoke from his heart.

The one spontaneous exhortation that stood out for me and one which he said with the greatest intensity, and I thought with some sorrow, was this (from my understanding of Italian): I know you Salesians work for young people. But work for the really needy young. There are 75 million young people who are unemployed today.

I thought the Pope looked tired and his voice too seemed tired. His usual smiles and serene countenance were not so evident.  I think the burden of his Petrine Ministry is beginning to weigh on him.

After the Pope concluded his message, the Members of the General Council, and the Argentinean delegation walked up front to greet the Pope individually.

And then an announcement was made that the Pope wanted to greet every member of the Chapter in person. The hall resounded with applause at the announcement.

Some members tried to kneel as they greeted the Pope. But he prevented each of them from doing so, lifting them up. When my turn came, I kissed his hands and told him: I bring you the good wishes and prayers from many people in India.

It took some time before each member had the chance to greet the Pope. The cameras kept on clicking.

It was 1.00 pm when the Chapter Members left the Clementine Hall, chattering like excited school kids!

Fr. Jose Parappully, SDB, (INN)



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