ROME–In St. Peter’s Square thousands of pilgrims from all over the world braved downpours to witness the canonization of Katharine Drexel last Sunday.
Drexel, a native of Philadelphia, was honored by the Catholic Church for her lifelong devotion to God and for her financial support of missions and missionaries and initiation of the construction of schools throughout the United States.
She gave her entire inheritance to serve African Americans and Native Americans.
She also founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order dedicated to sharing the Gospel and the Eucharist with American Indians and African Americans.
Despite the thunder, lightning, rain and wind, many pilgrims arrived in the square as early as 6 a.m. to secure a front-row seat among the 80,000 spectators who had tickets for the monumental celebration.
The sun peeked out from the clouds as the opening song rang clear to begin the ceremony, and the sun shined bright above St. Peter’s Basilica when Drexel, two other nuns and 120 martyrs were declared saints.
Intermittent downpours raining throughout the ceremony transformed the square into a sea of bright, open umbrellas and wet but mesmerized people.
The ceremony started at 10 a.m. and lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. Besides Drexel, Blessed Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus from Spain, Giuseppina Bakhita from Sudan, and 120 Chinese martyrs were honored.
The diversity of cultures among the honored nuns and martyrs was reflected in the variety of languages and traditions displayed during the ceremony.
The Mass alternated among Latin, Italian, English, Spanish, Chinese, and several African dialects to accommodate the range of people who journeyed from all over the world to attend and also to represent the saints and martyrs being honored.
The religious traditions of each of these cultures were shown throughout the ceremony with music, prayers and dancing.
Devoted Catholics held banners with portraits and names of the saints who came from their countries, and many wore native scarves and buttons to celebrate this event.
Americans arrived in large groups wearing Mother Katharine Drexel’s scarf, which was white with a yellow and black border. They came bearing yellow banners of Drexel joined by an African American and a Native American on either side of her.
These articles were welcoming signs for the hundreds who flocked to Rome to celebrate Drexel’s canonization.
Drexel’s mission and devotion inspired many groups from the United States, especially from Philadelphia, to make the pilgrimage to Rome.
Philadelphia’s Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua celebrated the Mass wearing green vestments. Americans cheered him as he gave a blessing in English at the altar.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had its headquarters in Hotel Dei Mellini across the Tiber River from St. Peter’s Basilica. Many Philadelphians stayed there and participated in various religious events and tours including a pilgrimage to the Basilica, which left at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the ceremony.
A group of 44 people from the Mother of Divine Grace parish in Port Richmond came to Rome on the Friday before the canonization. According to one woman from the group, because their parish has a devotion to Drexel the ceremony was powerful for her.
She said that when Amy Wall, the young girl who was cured of her deafness through the intercession of Saint Drexel, walked up to receive communion from the Pope, her “heart stopped and the whole ceremony became real for her.” Their group was one of many that became separated in the chaos of the inclement weather during the ceremony.
Although there were many large groups of Americans, some pilgrims went individually.
Two Temple Rome students, Andrew Tyson and Adam Hoover, journeyed to the canonization ceremony because of their ties to Philadelphia and to see their city represented by a saint, a cardinal and others.
Temple Rome student Chris Wiedemer said that his aunt belongs to the IHM sisters and was sitting on the platform where the Pope was located. She was able to get him a ticket to see the ceremony.
“I woke up at 7 a.m. just so that I could get a good seat at this amazing ceremony,” Wiedemer said.
Another supporter of the deaf, Denise Logan of the Center for Intergenerational Learning, went to Rome to serve as one of two sign-language interpreters for the ceremony.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the Pope thanked the people who came to Rome from the United States, and especially those from Philadelphia.
Scattered cheers were heard in the crowd at this point as proud Philadelphians finally saw all of their prayers and devotions for the sainthood of Katharine Drexel being granted on this day.