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home : features : people of faith

9/24/2015 9:00:00 AM
Couldn't wait for papal visit and Auriesville anniversary

When I was an elementary-school teacher, I always looked forward to the beginning of a new school year, filled with anticipation.

Arriving in Washington, D.C., recently to begin my fourth year of studies for the priesthood at the Theological College Seminary of the Catholic University of America (CUA), I was similarly filled with much hope and joy, and there was a sense of anticipation surrounding Washington like never before.

In the midst of my studies and beginning research for various thesis papers, I've been involved in two amazing opportunities in a week's time:

•  the visit of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to Washington, D.C.; and

•  a celebration of the 130th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville.

For the first time in history, on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, we witnessed on Sept. 23 the first canonization to take place in the United States. During a papal Mass, Pope Francis canonized Blessed Junipero Serra on the campus of CUA.

Our academic year at CUA had begun with a traditional Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. Cardinal Wuerl spoke about the hope which Pope Francis' visit brings to us and how we can follow the Holy Father's example of faith and service.

The campus community was challenged to "Walk with Francis" in support of his coming to Catholic University. We pledged, following Pope Francis' example, to increase our relationship with Christ, with three focal points:

•  Pray regularly for the Holy Father and learn about his message on the joy of the Gospel, the mercy of God and the love of Christ;

•  serve by reaching out and caring for those in need and supporting charitable efforts in our communities and beyond; and

•  act to promote human life and dignity, justice and peace, family life and religious freedom, care for creation and the common good.

However, just days before the pope arrived, I was back in the Diocese of Albany - and for this, too, I was filled with great anticipation.

I had the opportunity this summer to volunteer at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, and I realized once again how much of a treasure we have. The shrine is the site of the 17th-century Mohawk village of Ossernenon, where St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born and Ss. Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and John Lalande were martyred.

This year marks the 130th year of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) ministering at the shrine, and although the Jesuits are moving on from that ministry, the end of the shrine season is filled with much hope and joy for the future.

My involvement with the shrine has offered me the privilege of speaking with members of the Finkbonner family. Jacob Finkbonner, through prayers and the intercession of Kateri Tekakwitha, received the miracle necessary for Kateri's canonization when he suddenly recovered in 2006 from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria on his face. His is a tremendous and touching story about faith, hope and joy.

Speaking with the Finkbonner family and Jacob, I have been able to get a sense of what it means to suffer for the love of Christ. We know much about St. Kateri; however, I have always wondered how she dealt with her debilitating illnesses and the hostility others had toward her faith and love for Christ.

For me, Jacob is today's Kateri Tekakwitha. Looking into Jacob's eyes and seeing the scars on his young face, one becomes more attentive to the suffering and pain a person can experience. But his story is about more than suffering. Jacob is about God's unconditional love for us.

Jacob teaches us how to deal with today's challenges, and what it means for us to walk in the footsteps of St. Kateri. Through Jacob's eyes, I can see the love and mercy of Christ. Jacob's words about the hope and joy in his life, despite his suffering, give others the same hope and joy.

The anticipation I had within me before these two events is hard to describe. These events have allowed me to witness God's love and have filled me with great joy and hope for this coming year.

(Mr. Vivacqua is a native of Our Lady Queen of Apostles parish in Frankfort who was previously a teacher in North Carolina, Virginia and New York. He is now studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese.)

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