Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Prayer for Philadelphia

Before he returns to his wounded archdiocese on Monday, Cardinal Justin Rigali made a noteworthy visit earlier today in Rome.

According to a source on the ground, Rigali, accompanied by what were described as "a couple monsignori-types," was sighted at the church of Ss. Redentore e San Alfonso, the mother-church of the Redemptorist order, located on the Via Merulana a stone's throw from St. Mary Major. The Philadelphia prelate spent some time in prayer and took a tour of the church, small by Roman standards, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary next month.

Well, you ask, of all the churches in Rome, why this one?

The Philadelphia ties of St. Alphonsus run deep. In a 1991 address to its new honorary pastor, a new cardinal, John Paul II said that, "It is particularly fitting that your titular church in Rome is the church of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Alphonsus on the Via Merulana. Under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers, it brings to mind the life and example of the great St. John Neumann, the first Redemptorist to be professed in America, who was one of your predecessors as Bishop of Philadelphia."

A mosaic of St. John Neumann -- portrayed with his city's Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul over one shoulder and St. Peter's Church (Philadelphia's Redemptorist hub, where Neumann is buried) over the other -- can be found in a niche near the back of the church. The church's titular is Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Philadelphia's retired archbishop whose handling of clergy sex-abuse cases was heavily disparaged in a recent grand jury report.

Bevilacqua's affinity for St. John Neumann is well known. At his 1988 installation as archbishop of Philadelphia, he recounted the story of his recently-deceased mentor, Fr. Andrew Francis Klarmann, who "had kept a relic of St. John Neumann for years. And every time he passed it, he would always look at it and say, 'Please take care of my little Tony' -- that's me. So I owe a lot to St. John Neumann."

Whether Klarmann's prayer was on Rigali's lips is, of course, unknown. But there's much to be said for the context.



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