.- Over 500 students, staff and guests gathered at the Pontifical North American College in Rome today to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
“For an American in Rome this is the place to be on Thanksgiving,” said seminarian John Connaughton of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. to CNA.
“And to be here with my brother seminarians, well, there’s actually no place I’d rather be on Thanksgiving – besides with my family.”
Over 300 students and staff were joined by 30 bishops from New York who are in Rome for their “ad limina” visit to the Vatican.
“Well, we can celebrate Thanksgiving any place,” said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, when asked how it feels to mark the American holiday in Italy.
“It’s a national day when we remember all the blessing we’ve received as a people – the origins, the pilgrims, the Indians – and go back to that love-fest at our beginnings as I think it formed the idea of our nation, that we should be a people at peace with everyone.”
Today’s festivities began with the celebration of Mass in the college chapel where the main celebrant was Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. The homily meanwhile was delivered by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, a former student and rector of the North American College.
“A blessed Thanksgiving to all of you,” he wished to all present before reminding them of St. Augustine of Hippo’s contention that “gratitude is the first step to holiness,” as from gratitude, said St. Augustine, comes humility.
Thus we recognize that without Christ, “nothing is possible but with Him nothing is impossible,” said Archbishop Dolan, adding that “His grace and mercy are lavished upon us through absolutely no merits of our own,” so that we should “gratefully and humbly accept his gifts,” in the knowledge that “even the ability to do that is itself His gift.”
Speaking to CNA, Archbishop Dolan recalled his student years at the college between 1972 and 1976 and how he had never celebrated Thanksgiving “with more fervor and more gusto than I did when I was here in Rome.”
He said that marking Thanksgiving abroad always reminds him of “how uniquely American it is,” and that “giving thanks and praise to God for his abundant blessings is such a part of the American psyche.”
“I was homesick, I sure missed my family,” he said of his student days, “but to be here, I felt at home, I was so grateful to be an American and we just banged out ‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ It was a great feast day.”
Those musical traditions were continued today by the class of 2011 as they gathered after Mass for a grand banquet with the traditional turkey and cranberry sauce on the menu. The seating plan was arranged on a state by state basis, including tables for the Australian and Canadian students studying at the North American College.
“Well it is tough to be away from home on Thanksgiving,” said Deacon Gino Pattugalan of the Diocese of Brooklyn, “it’s such a part of home – but it feels like home is being brought to the college today.”