I mentioned last week that more than two thousand people came here for Christmas. That was a pretty big number for our parish, though our church is large enough that we can handle it easily. The marvel is the number of lives that converged here in celebration of the Birth of Christ.
However, our numbers pale in comparison to an interesting attendance statistic from another quarter I read today:
MORE THAN 2.5 MILLION FAITHFUL MEET THE POPE IN 2011
VATICAN CITY, 3 JAN 2012 (VIS) - The Prefecture of the Pontifical Household has published a communiqué announcing that, during the course of 2011, 2,553,800 faithful participated in various meetings with Benedict XVI including general audiences (400,000), private audiences (101,800), liturgical celebrations (846,000), Angelus and Regina Coeli (1,206,000). These statistics, which show an increase with respect to the last three years, refer only to meetings that took place in the Vatican or Castelgandolfo, and do not include the many thousands of faithful who came to see the Holy Father on his journeys in Italy or abroad.
The Prefecture of the Pontifical Household explains that the numbers are approximate, calculated on the basis of requests to participate in meetings with the Pope and on the tickets distributed, as well as on estimations of people present at events such as the Angelus or large celebrations in St. Peter's Square. The single event which brought together the largest number of faithful was the beatification of John Paul II on 1 May.
Please note that of that, 2,553,800 faithful, thirty-five are us – pilgrims from our parish pilgrimage to Rome in October, when we joined about forty thousand others at a Wednesday General Audience with the Holy Father. And that is not counting the hundreds of thousands, probably several million, who saw the Pope on his journeys last year! I am not jealous; I know I am not in his league (though I am in league with him, ideally). How could I be jealous, when I am a fan?
I think it is great that so many people went to the effort to spend time with the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Servant of the Servants of God. It reveals that they know that there is something about him that is different, special, and sacred. He is the Successor of Peter, and carries the responsibility of governing Christ’s Church. As such, he enjoys the graces that our Lord promised to Peter and all who hold that office: divine help and guidance, that the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)
The great gift that we have as Catholics is that we have places to go, things to do, and people to see. We are not locked in our minds and its abstract possibilities of drawing closer to God, or moving further away. It all started on the day that Christ was born, when the shepherd were told where to go, and whom to see. That day was holy; that place was holy; and those people – not just Jesus, but Mary, and Joseph, too – were holy. They could be seen, touched, heard, and talked to by all who had eyes to see and ears to hear.
And we few – or few thousand – are not deprived of that because we are separated from Bethlehem that night by several thousands of miles, and years. Praise be to God who came to dwell among us in human flesh, and still does, and still waits, looking to see not how many, but who shows up.