A hot evening in Vatican. I was waiting to see that face so familiar to me through visual media. Possibly, the most photographed priestly face after the Pope, by the news cameras. I was waiting patiently for Fr. Federico Lombardi at the headquarters of the Vatican Radio.
Fr. Lombardi, the Director General of the Vatican Radio, is also the president of Vatican Press office. I am granted five minutes’ time to meet with him. In fact, I hadn’t taken pre-permission. Fr. William Nellikkal, the Malayalam department head of the Vatican Radio, had put some real effort to arrange a meeting for me. ‘Just five minutes!’ the secretary reminded.
“You can meet Fr. Lombardi now” the secretary said in English with an Italian accent. Fr. Nellikkal accompanied me.
We entered into an expansive office with files arrayed on top of the large table. On the other side of the pile of files, sat the 73 year old priest with a venerable countenance. He got up and gave his hand. The he said in pristine English: “Good evening”.
From the later conversation, I knew that he has swelling on his right leg, which caused difficulty to walk.
I introduced myself, and revealed my purpose of visit. Fr. Lombardi smiled cordially. Our conversation went on and on. Fr. William Nellikkal poked me from behind. The secretary appeared at the door and peeped in to remind me that the time is getting over.
Fr. Lombardi looked at both of them and said: “I am enjoying this conversation. I don’t have any other programme today evening. Let Santimon continue…”
Half an hour passed. A very meaningful and fruitful talk indeed. Finally I got up to leave. The priest too.
I knelt down before the aged holy priest and requested: “Would you please give me your blessing?”He put both his hands on my head and prayed in Italian. I thanked him and stood back on my feet.
The miracle happened the very next moment. Fr. Lombardi knelt down before me! “Please bless me!” he said. Startled, I stared on his faced. I asked: “I am a sinner and a weak person. How can I bless a priest like you?” He grabbed my hands and put them on his head. For the first time, my hands rested on the head of a priest. My hands trembled!
I began to pray. Tears ran down my cheeks. Unknowingly, a drop of tear fell on his anointed head. The most famous priest in the Catholic Church is kneeling in front of me!
A Jesuit, he had rejected many ecclesiastical honours. Jesuits, usually, do not accept even Cardinal title. Pope Francis was a Jesuit too. There were special reasons for him to become a bishop, cardinal and Pope!
I remembered my church in Kerala on that evening in Vatican. We have many holy priests there too. We have holy and humble leaders. Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry is an example. He keeps his doors opened for all. Anyone can meet him at any time.
Once I asked him, “Now you are a Major Archbishop. Shouldn’t you become a bit more official?”
“Anyone can meet me at any time. I love being with the people. I am not interested to change my ways.” I was moved by his humility.
But, some lives really pain me. Persons who gradually evolve into man-gods. There are retreat centres which had its beginning in humble circumstances, but later led by leaders with star value. ‘Little men and women’ will be waiting outside their rooms for hours to have a glimpse of their face. They will be happy if only these people keep their doors opened. But, how can it be?
Christ was someone who multiplied the loaves for those who waited patiently, those who gave ears to his words. He stayed in the house of the one who climbed on the Sycamore tree to get a glimpse of the Lord. Aren’t you proclaiming his word?
Then, you should not be like movie stars and rock stars! Christ seeks priests with no star value, holy and humble men. Why don’t we get down from the luxury cars and walk with the commoners, and embrace those poor ones waiting outside the room?
Don’t worry, you are not going to lose your anointing by such acts of humility! The grain of wheat must falls into the earth and die. If our retreats centres, which once produced great miracles have now become inactive, we must repent. Once, the Lord of Israel has anointed a boy named Samuel in a time when the prophecies were dried up.