After being a deacon for only two weeks, Eddie D'Almeida got one of the top assignments in Rome.
The diocesan seminarian from Vilonia, who will be ordained a priest in July, was chosen to serve as a deacon during the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter Basilica in Rome Sunday, Oct. 26. D'Almeida is in his fourth year studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
In an e-mail interview with Arkansas Catholic, D'Almeida said his seminary was asked to provide two deacons for the Mass.
"I was chosen with another deacon, Deacon Nick Schneider from the Diocese of Bismark from the college through a lottery process," he wrote. "We were two deacons among 10 others from various colleges in Rome. We did not know our roles until the practice the day before the Mass. Deacon Schneider and I were given the task of distributing holy Communion to many of the cardinals, patriarchs and bishops present, around 250 synod fathers."
D'Almeida said the experience was a special honor, especially because his seminary is rarely asked to provide deacons and acolytes for papal Masses.
"I have lived very close to Pope Benedict for three years now, our college only located 10 minutes away from the Vatican City, yet I have only come physically close to him on rare occasions," he said. "For example, I arrived three to four hours early for midnight Mass one Christmas in order to get in position that I might be 10 feet away from him as he processed to the altar."
While D'Almeida, 33, did not get to interact with the pope during Mass, he was able to personally meet him afterwards near Michelangelo's "Pieta."
"Shaking with excitement, I knelt to reverence his ring, kissing it and then I told him, 'Your Holiness, I am from the United States. You are a wonderful pastor and we love you,'" he said. "I was able to tell him one more time 'we love you' before I was whisked away by guards in order to keep the greeting line moving."
D'Almeida said he will treasure a rosary given to him from the pope, and he hopes to get a photograph of the encounter.
"It was an experience of a lifetime serving as a deacon for the papal liturgy and meeting our loving shepherd, whom I consider a genius and a treasure for today," he said.
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