On Friday he will do this again, when he beatifies Maria of Jesus Crucified Petkov, in Dubrovnik’s Port Square, part of his visit to Croatia.
Bishop Piero Marini, for 15 years master of papal ceremonies, explains the meaning of these celebrations.
Q: Why does this Pope travel so much?
Bishop Marini: The Pope goes to confirm brethren in the faith, proclaiming the Word and celebrating the sacraments. He says this in his last encyclical: The Eucharist builds the community.
When it is presided over by the Bishop of Rome, the universality of the Church becomes visible. In the eucharistic celebration, the Pope exercises his ministry in the fullest way. Therefore, the Mass is at the heart of every trip — otherwise, its civil aspect would predominate. Only thus can one understand his desire to visit even the most remote islands.
Q: What do you remember of the first trip in which you participated?
Bishop Marini: It was April 1987 and it was a baptism of fire.
We were in Chile, in O’Higgins Park. It was supposed to be the Mass of reconciliation and it turned into the Mass of the guerrillas. From the start of the Liturgy of the Word, they fired on the tents. Then they knocked down the journalists’ platform. The police arrived in armored cars.
The Pope saw the stretchers going by with the wounded bleeding. At times, gusts of tear gas reached the altar. It was a truly difficult Mass. At the end, the Pope pronounced those famous words: “Love is stronger.”
Q: One of the aspects of these Masses in international trips is the encounter with cultures.
Bishop Marini: They reflect well what the reform of the Second Vatican Council has been.
We have gone from a liturgy proper to the Church of Rome to a liturgy open to the world: languages, local cultures have entered the celebration, maintaining the same structure for the whole Catholic Church.
This liturgy has enabled the Pope to celebrate in all the countries: The universality of the presence of the Successor of Peter has been expressed in all the celebrations incarnated in the different local Churches. This encounter is easier than it seems. Very little, in fact, is required: The songs, musical instruments, body movements at times are enough.
I remember the trip to Cameroon, when a woman carried the Gospel on her back, according to her tradition. Or the Mass in Gulu, where a man carried a youth astride who showed everyone the Gospel.
They are elements that speak directly to the people’s culture, without altering the rite. I must also say that we have come a long way. During the last trip to Mexico, I was impressed by how well the elements of the Indian culture have been integrated in the celebration.
Q: How is the preparation for these Mass undertaken?
Bishop Marini: It is a serious moment, as there is the risk of falling into folklore. We ask the episcopal conference to appoint a responsible priest. Together, we evaluate what is or is not acceptable.
In Indonesia, for example, they wanted to do the aspersion with coconut milk, which for them is a symbol of life. “But, with what do you baptize the children?” I asked. An aspersion has no meaning outside of the recollection of baptism.
It is important that these elements not hide the signs of the liturgy: If there is a procession with the Gospel, the Gospel must be seen. The Eastern rites with flowers are beautiful, but they must allow the Word of God to emerge, as our faith is based on it.
Q: How are the venues chosen for the celebrations?
Bishop Marini: It’s not easy: the crowds call for open spaces. The worst solution — but at times it’s the only alternative — is airports. It is difficult to create a community in them. One’s gaze is lost in the horizon.
It is better in stadiums: There is the possibility for the people to be close. However, a square in the city is the ideal. People feel at home. They can say: The Pope has come here and has celebrated Mass with us.
Q: The Pope has also celebrated Mass in places marked by the wounds of history.
Bishop Marini: I remember a celebration in Africa, full of people mutilated in war. The Pope is also an element of hope where there is no hope. Suffice it to think how he was awaited in Iraq.
In Sarajevo we crossed a city full of destruction. It was terribly cold during the Mass, and the Pope endured great difficulties. At the end, speaking with him, I said: “What a pity that the cold made you suffer a bit.” He answered me: It was nothing, compared to what these poor people suffered.
Q: We are all witnesses of the exhaustion that these trips entail. What makes the Pope continue?
Bishop Marini: Transport, climate and change of time zone are difficult for him. People realize this and perhaps this is why they participate even more.
He continues because he feels his ministry consists of this; he has taken seriously the mandate to confirm the brethren in the faith, especially through these trips.
At present it is seen more clearly. Many things have been simplified — the ceremony at airports, the speeches. But the eucharistic celebrations continue unaltered: The Church is built with the Eucharist.