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Day 9: From Cologne to Rome

John WatersJohn Waters is a first year seminarian for the Archdiocese of Birmingham. He is currently studying at the Venerable English College, Rome.

Every time I speak to my boyhood parish priest on the phone, he always says the same thing. “Well John, who’d have thought, all those years ago when you went to see the Pope at World Youth Day, you’d end up in Rome training to be a priest yourself?”. Well, not me for one. When I went to Cologne in 2005, aged 18, I had a vague notion of being a priest, but I certainly wasn’t living a very priestly life.

But they say that a good homily can change your life. And also that others can predict you’re going to Seminary long before you do yourself. “Dear friends! Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient.” This was me all over! Yes I went to Mass, yes I served the Altar. But there were so many other things going on, so many more demands on my time, which seemed so much more fun!

But never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d hear a reigning Pope admit that such feelings exist, that people experience such temptation to skip Mass and do something more fun. This was a side of the Pope I’d not expected to see-

“Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too. This is because the Eucharist releases the joy that we need so much, and we must learn to grasp it ever more deeply, we must learn to love it.”

Pope Benedict, World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne

As I went off to University, still wrestling with a vocation, I increasingly found that I couldn’t do without Mass on a Sunday. Unless I’d been to Church, there was something missing from my day. And my friends, far from teasing me or arguing with me, started to ask me about God, about the Church, could I explain this teaching and that one? Hang on, didn’t the Pope say something about this at the Marienfeld closing Mass?  “Through your love for the Eucharist you will also rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which the merciful goodness of God always allows us to make a fresh start in our lives.”

At World Youth Day, I made my first confession in years, feeling that I simply had to receive absolution before I received Communion consecrated by Peter’s successor himself. And, the more I discerned a vocation, the more time I spent in Mass and in Christ’s presence, I found I couldn’t do without confession either.

“Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.”

Pope Benedict, World Youth Day, Marienfeld, Cologne

By now I had applied to the Seminary, been accepted by the Archbishop and asked to spend a year at the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain. I was getting ready to leave the house I’d been renting while I worked in London when my housemate appeared at my door. She hadn’t been to Mass in a few years but tentatively asked if she could come with me on Sunday. Not only that, but a colleague who’d just moved house announced to me that he’s found a parish church he would start attending as well.

They say that a good homily can change your life. But who’s ever heard of a homily predicting your life? But looking back, now that Pope Benedict’s Papacy is drawing to a close, I can see that I owe so much of my Vocation and my life here in Rome, to him.


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