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Wake of Papal Visit Elicits Awe and Reflection

Br. Robert in front of the main altar before the papal Mass

The Holy Father Pope Francis recently visited Chile and Peru on an apostolic visitation in January of 2018. The Augustinian communities of Peru played a major role in the preparations and planning of this important event. Br. Robert Baiocco, OSA is currently in Peru for his pastoral year of formation. He sent in the following reflection and update in the wake of the papal visit:

"Queridos Hermanos…Saludos del Peru!

I am happy and healthy and I pray the same is true for you! Most of you know that all of us here in Trujillo, and Peru in general, were blessed with the visit of Pope Francis in January. I would like to share with you some of the reasons why his visit to Trujillo will forever stand out in my heart and mind.

Before I arrived in September, coordinators and commissions had already begun planning the numerous details of the Pope’s visit. At first, I considered it a lucky coincidence that this event was scheduled to take place during my time in Peru. However, the coincidence quickly transformed into a surreal blessing as I learned that not only was our house the headquarters for the planning commissions, but that my pastoral year supervisor, Fr. John Lydon, OSA, was the Head Coordinator for the Trujillo papal visit! He was in charge of overseeing the different commissions that were responsible for organizing transportation, communication, security, and the liturgy. Our house was buzzing with the chatter of planning meetings, thousands of access credentials being pumped out of the Epson printer (I still cannot believe the machine continues to function), and bulk deliveries of chalices, ciboria, and hosts. Our house Chapel looked like a giant tabernacle!

In the early hours of the morning on January 20th, the months of preparation and spiritual energy took human form, as waves of thousands of people flooded Huanchaco Beach in anticipation of Pope Francis’ arrival. The Augustinians were gifted with special access, so I had a spectacular view as the first rays of sun snuck over the Andes mountains. The multitude of people that were intently marching towards the colossal altar that had been constructed on the beach was awe inspiring. The spiritual intention and slogan of the gathering was coined as ‘Unidos Por La Esperanza’ (United By Hope), and it was manifested in the "tsunami of faith" that was peacefully surging towards the altar.

In addition to my supervisor being the Head Coordinator and living in the ‘papal visit planning headquarters’, the location of the airport and its close proximity (1 mile) to Huanchaco Beach also added to the intimate connection we all felt with the Pope’s visit. Hundreds of thousands of us stood on the beach staring out over the ocean, anxiously awaiting the first sight of the airplane that was bringing Pope Francis to us. An intense sense of love, hope, and community radiated through the congregation as the plane and its military jet escorts came into sight. The cheering and tears increased as the aircrafts approached the coastline and came in for the landing…directly above our heads! The rush of the Holy Spirit was given to us through booming jet engines…what an entrance!

The uniqueness of this event continued as we watched giant TV screens that showed the landing, welcome ceremony, and the 30 minute procession that transported Pope Francis from the airport to the beach. After making his rounds in the Popemobile, our Holy Father took his place on the altar and led us in a Eucharistic Celebration that will be a source of hope and love for this country well beyond our years. At the end of the homily, Pope Francis encouraged all of us to join him in singing a prayer in honor of La Virgen de la Puerta (Our Lady of the Gate…an extremely popular and powerful Marian devotion here in Peru). Click HERE for a link to the Pope’s homily in English.

After the Mass, Pope Francis held a private audience for members of religious life at Colegio Seminario in the historical center of Trujillo. Never have I experienced such an intimate connection with the Pope’s service, or such a saturating sense of the Pope’s presence. These are some of the reasons that Pope Francis’ visit to Trujillo will forever stand out in my heart and mind."

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