Students from the Pontifical Irish College will have a special role in the Corpus Christi Mass and procession. Deacons Colin Crossey from the Diocese of Down and Connor, and Shane Gallagher from the Diocese of Raphoe will participate in the Mass. And six other seminarians (four of whom are Irish) will flank the Pope as he processes with the Eucharist from the Basilicas of St. John Lateran to St. Mary Major.
The participation of the Irish College seminarians hearkens back 400 years to 1608 when Earl Hugh O'Neill and his party received the honor of carrying the canopy in the Corpus Christi procession.
According to Monsignor Liam Bergin, Rector of the Pontifical Irish College, "The honor shown to the Irish Earls 400 years ago, by Pope Paul V, has been revisited on eight Irish College seminarians who will assist Pope Benedict in this procession tomorrow. As this anniversary is being marked in Ireland and beyond by historical and cultural events, it is appropriate that the religious dimension is also acknowledged and that the welcome given to the Catholic princes four centuries ago, by the Holy See, be joyously celebrated today."
O'Neill and his followers arrived in Rome on April 29, 1608, fleeing from Ireland. The party was received with full honors by Paul V and was given prominence at civil and religious events in the city. O'Neill, together with his son-in-law and six other nobles of his party, were given the particular honor of carrying the canopy in the Corpus Christi procession on June 5, 1608.
Tadhg Ó Cianáin's contemporary diary of the event records: "The Italians were greatly surprised that they should be shown such deference and respect, for some of them said that seldom before was any one nation in the world appointed to carry the canopy. With the ambassadors of all the Catholic kings and princes of Christendom who happened to be in the city at that time it was an established custom that they, in succession, every year got their opportunity to carry the canopy. They were jealous, envious, and surprised that they were not allowed to carry it on that particular day."
The 400th anniversary of the so-called flight of the Earls was widely celebrated in Ireland last year, as the party left Ireland on Sept. 14, 1607.