Deacon Andrew Hart, who will be ordained a priest in July, accompanied Bishop Anthony B. Taylor when he met with Pope Benedict XVI March 16 during the periodic ad limina visit. Hart is a student at the North American College in Rome.
Hart met the pope for the first time in January 2010 when the pope had a private audience for the students for the college’s 150th anniversary.
He shared his impressions on meeting the pope for the second time.
"The audience today was a much more personal encounter. I was received along with Bishop Taylor, Archbishop Coakley and a priest from Oklahoma City, and Bishop Slattery and a priest of Tulsa. Each bishop greeted the pope and then presented the corresponding guest from his diocese. When it was my turn, I thanked the Holy Father for his beautiful witness of the priesthood and assured him of my prayers. He smiled and thanked me, and gave me his blessing. Bishop Taylor then showed him the spiritual bouquet of prayers prepared by the people of Arkansas, as well as a special prayer card/birthday card from the Missionaries of Charity.
"After a group picture, the pope blessed some rosaries and other small gifts for us, and then the two other priests and I left as the Holy Father spoke to the bishops in private. Each bishop presented a prepared statement to the Holy Father, and they said that he was very interested and engaged in what they had to say.
"For me, it was a wonderful experience of the universality of the Church and of the primacy of the See of Peter. People from every nation and background have been coming to this city for thousands of years to greet the Successor of St. Peter and to see the man through whom the Holy Spirit continues to guide the universal Church. For people everywhere, his presence is really a source of hope -- a visible reminder that God is faithful, God is merciful, and that even in the midst of our trials God's Providence is working to bring all things to good. What a lasting testimony to the power of those words Jesus once spoke "You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church"!
"For me personally, as one who will soon be ordained a priest, I was very moved by the great humility that is always present in this particular pope. I think his brilliant intellectual life and very rich spirituality are rooted in the deep joy he has in being ‘a friend of Jesus Christ.’ His central mission, whether as a priest or as a bishop or now as pope, has been to share that joy with others in the hope that they might experience it as he has. That is the very heart of the priesthood: to share the Good News of Jesus. "Throughout my time in Rome, I have been inspired by the faithful example of priestly service which Pope Benedict has given. I thanked him for that example today, and I pray I receive the grace to serve faithfully and humbly in my priestly ministry as well."
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