The sun was rising over Rome as we passed through metal detectors in the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square and made our way towards excellent seats near the foot of the Basilica steps. We tried to keep warm in the crisp air. From the microphone next to the Pope’s chair, an American Monsignor welcomed all the pilgrim groups from the United States, including St. Mary of the Assumption, Upper Marlboro, Maryland!
Then the Pope arrived, passing in the popemobile just a few feet from our seats. By this time the sun had climbed high into the sky. We were surrounded by a large group of Bavarians on one side and Polish on the other. The Holy Father was greeted with cheers and singing in many languages.
Pope Benedict talked to us about St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. We chanted the Our Father with him in Latin. Then he gave us his blessing.
After the General Audience, Fr. Gus DiNoia welcomed us into the meeting hall of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is where Pope Benedict conducted meetings for over twenty years when he was the Cardinal Prefect. The offices of this dicastery (ie., department of the Roman Curia) are in the “Holy Office” building, right next to St. Peter’s.
This afternoon, we visited the Catacombs of St. Domatilla. Then we made our way to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
All of us were rendered speechless by the splendor of the church, and by the fact that we had reached the tomb of the Apostle of the Gentiles. We toured the church, admiring many beautiful adornments, including the portraits of all the Popes since St. Peter.
We celebrated Holy Mass in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Then we made our personal visits to St. Paul’s tomb.
I have been to this holy place before. But this year is special: the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth. A new set of doors has been installed on the left side of the entrance, the Holy Doors for the Pauline Year. They are painted with the scenes of St. Paul’s conversion and martyrdom and marked with the following incription in Greek and Latin: “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.”