Yesterday was the Memorial of Pope Saint Callistus I who died a martyr's death in around 222. Callistus was raised a slave and endured hard labor before being chosen a deacon and given charge to the first Christian cemetery on the Appian way outside of the city of Rome. He was a natural leader with great managerial skills, and developed this first cemetery specifically for the followers of Christ. He was chosen as Bishop of Rome, and had many critics because of his position of mercy and forgiveness for the repentant sinner, even those who repented of leaving the Church. Sounds a little like the themes of Pope Francis in our day.
I mention this because it brings to mind my first trip to Rome on Pentecost weekend in the Holy Year of 1975 for the first International Conference for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. There were a number of us from the Pittsburgh area that joined nearly 10,000 people in Rome for the occasion. Our conference sessions were held on the grounds of the Catacombs of Saint Callistus, in huge tents pitched on the grounds and with great speakers within the renewal like Ralph Martin, Father Mike Scanlon and Cardinal Suenens. It was a glorious time filled with exuberance and hope. I looked for some of my old pictures, but my camera and my photographic abilities left much to be desired. Sorry.
The crowning point of the gathering was attending the Pentecost Mass of Pope Paul VI (who is to be beatified this Sunday), and then to concelebrate a Mass at the papal altar presided over by Cardinal Suenens with about 400 priests (he was given the honor of using the pontifical altar). Following that Mass, we were greeted by Pope Paul VI, who spoke to all of us gathered there that day - words of encouragement and love. I am glad to see that he is being beatified, for I feel that he did extraordinary things during his reign - mostly forgotten because of his being overshadowed by Pope John Paul II.
So yesterday, when we remembered Callistus, I remembered the place that he had prepared for the repose of the souls of the saints of God and that I had the good fortune to visit that holy ground.