Monday, June 18, 2007

"He Was Close To the Sick; He Was at Home with the Poor"... But Could He Channel Don Ho?

It's a little ironic that the only male of his family who didn't attend Southeast Catholic/St John Neumann High School (1936-2004) is the one writing about this, but thirty years ago tomorrow, John Nepomucene Neumann, the first Redemptorist professed in America and fourth bishop of Philadelphia, was raised to the honors of the altar on the steps of St Peter's by Pope Paul VI.

The canonization of the US' first male saint -- which even made it to the pages of TIME -- was an event America's Rome relished in no small measure.

Then again, such is our duty before God.

Leading a flotilla of 10,000 Yanks who converged on the Urb for a week of Masses and dinners, the days became as much a celebration of John Krol as they were of John Neumann. The saint's successor merged the canonization pilgrimage with observances giving thanks for his 40th anniversary as a priest and decade of membership in the College of Cardinals, and three days of post-canonization liturgies (their celebrating and preaching duties divvied up among the American hierarchy's A-list) had their lone non-prelate headliner at Krol's closing Mass on the papal altar of the Vatican basilica, as the day's panegyric was delivered by the cardinal's personal favorite and chosen "Star of Tomorrow": the private secretary to the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Fr Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh.

Earlier in the week, as Papa Montini granted a "private" audience for the aforementioned cast of thousands, Krol led the throng in multiple rounds of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" as the US bishops congregated around the pontiff to join him in the Apostolic Blessing. By nightfall, however, running the dais at the Rome Sheraton for the week's climactic banquet, the chosen one who unilaterally saved Catholic Philadelphia from ruin (read: the 20th century) intoned the one sing-along he found even more sacred to call the carousing masses to order.

Shepherd: "Tiny Bubbles, in the wine..."

Flock: "...make me feel happy, make me feel fine."

(...per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.)

As a codicil, keep in mind that the only "post-conciliar" hymns permitted for use in the local parishes during this period were: 1. "Gift of Finest Wheat" -- because the Tenth Ordinary commissioned it for the 1976 International Eucharistic Congress -- and 2. "How Great Thou Art" -- because he liked it. This was also the time when, Philadelphia being the only US diocese to refrain from allowing Saturday evening vigil Masses, the rush hour-esque traffic of the faithful would head over the bridges every Saturday afternoon in their weekly "Jersey run" for full-service fuel, cheap booze and licit Eucharists.

Sure, Neumann might've become a saint. But, then at the apex of his powers (and still 16 months away from installing his candidate on the papal throne), Krol was nothing short of a demigod.

Indeed, those were the days.

In death, the fourth bishop took his rest not with his predecessors in the Bishops' Cemetery at 8th and Washington (now a Korean supermarket), but alongside his confreres at the Redemptorist base of St Peter's at 5th and Girard. Open daily, the Neumann Shrine features the vested body of the "little bishop" encased in glass beneath its altar, as pilgrims continue to flow in from the world over.

To commemorate the milestone, while his saintly predecessor had to brave daunting conditions and traverse his charge by horseback and pullcoach, the current occupant of St John's Chair has YouTubed his sentiments to the flock.

Take it away, Pharaoh....