Pompeii Poised for the Pope's Pilgrimage

Interview With Archbishop Sorrentino

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POMPEII, Italy, OCT. 2, 2003 (Zenit.org).- As the Pope's visit to the Marian shrine approaches, Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Pompeii described the preparations and fervor of the faithful in Web page www.korazym.org.



John Paul II recently appointed him secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Q: The Pope proclaimed this year the Year of the Rosary. Pompeii is one of the places in the world most centered on the Blessed Virgin. How are the city, the Church and the faithful preparing for the Holy Father's forthcoming visit?

Archbishop Sorrentino: Pompeii is a spiritual source at this time. The Holy Father's visit has been much desired and long awaited. The Pontiff announced it in Ischia in May of last year; he reiterated his desire on Oct. 16, 2002, in St. Peter's, when he declared the rosary the prayer of the year. At last, on Oct. 7, we will be able to see him.

The city and the Church in Pompeii are preparing, especially spiritually, with specific initiatives of prayer and reflection. We have a daily initiative early in the morning, at 6:30; we call it "Good morning to Mary." It is a meditation on the holy rosary.

The event closes every night with another beautiful initiative: the rosary for peace, at 9 p.m. A procession starts from an area of the shrine dedicated to John XXIII -- the Pope of "Pacem in Terris" -- and arrives at the facade of the shrine, which Blessed Bartolo Longo, founder of Pompeii, conceived as a monument to universal peace.

The procession ends at the foot of the Virgin's statue, where intentions for peace are placed. The day transpires between these two devotions. In addition, according to the days, there are initiatives for in-depth reflection and group meetings -- young people, families, etc. Hence, there is great expectation and great fervor.

Q: Every day, Pompeii lives the rosary, a prayer to which the Pope is especially attached. However, for young people, it is often difficult to pray the rosary, because it seems like a mechanical prayer.

Archbishop Sorrentino: I had an experience with young people which has given me much comfort. I witnessed what the Pope says in his letter on the rosary: If young people are properly introduced to this prayer, with the typical ways of youthful culture, enriched by symbolic and harmonious moments, they are deeply moved by it and understand its real meaning.

The rosary is a prayer about falling in love. The repetition is not something mechanical, the same old tale. Properly understood, the repetition is the typical movement of the heart, which needs to repeat and constantly stress the act of love, the expression of love.

An effort is made to understand well the heart of the rosary, to present it in its Christological dimension, to have it prayed in such a way that this movement of the heart is really felt, serene but also vivacious -- imperatives of sensibility and youthful culture. This is precisely what we have experienced with the Union of Youths of the Rosary and with a rosary vigil that we hold once a month. The fruits are certainly encouraging.

Q: Now that you mentioned the Union of Youths of the Rosary, how are young people preparing for the Holy Father's visit and what are their expectations about the message the Pope will give them?

Archbishop Sorrentino: The movement of Youths of the Rosary is very active in this sense. We have periodic initiatives which are developed during the whole year. The Youths of the Rosary group will try to get greater consensus by being open to all ecclesial groups and movements, both in Pompeii as well as beyond.

Pompeii is a little reality from the point of view of its ecclesial configuration, but it is a reality that goes well beyond itself: It has a message for the world and we seek openness. Oct. 7 will be a joy for us to be able to be open and make our area as large as possible so that young people will be able to hear the Pope's voice, as always, up close.

Q: Despite the effort it has meant for him in recent days, the Pope has decided to confirm his program, which includes the visit to the shrine of Pompeii. What are your impressions of this Pope, strong and tenacious, who despite exhaustion, sickness and age continues to go on pilgrimage around the world?

Archbishop Sorrentino: I am certain that what gives the Pope strength is his contemplative capacity.

My experience of the rosary in Pompeii tells me that the contemplative dimension can be so intense precisely through this prayer, and so vivifying, that every person is affected and sustained.

I think the Pope finds that will power, indomitable and tenacious, precisely when he looks at Christ with Mary. I am sure that the rosary has a relevant role in his contemplative experience, together with the Eucharist, which is the heart of Christian life.

What fascinates me about this Pontiff is his ability to radiate, including through his physical exhaustion, a strength of spirit that is typically youthful, thus giving testimony that the Gospel is young and makes one young.