Two young men from England studying for the priesthood in Rome consider themselves blessed to have served at Sunday’s papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Recalling his experience, seminarian David Irwin of the Diocese of Shrewsbury, England, said it was “a huge privilege being able to serve Mass with the Holy Father.”
“I think particularly as well, as it being the Mass with our new cardinal in England, his eminence Cardinal Nichols, it was just a huge privilege for our college to be able to be so close to the Holy Father,” Irwin told CNA on Feb. 24.
The Venerable English College in Rome is home to 38 seminarians from various parts of England and Wales, 15 of whom served at the Feb. 23 Mass of Thanksgiving for the creation of new cardinals.
“It was a wonderful day,” recounted seminarian John Waters of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. “I was the Pope’s miter bearer, which as an incredible honor for me to be so close to the Holy Father through most of Mass. I think I was never more than 6 or 7 feet away from him.”
“To be that close, particularly as you process up to the high altar and to see the effect that the Holy Father has on the faithful and just to be surrounded by that atmosphere of holiness was absolutely fantastic,” Waters recalled.
Both young men were able to meet Pope Francis before the Mass began.
“He came into the sacristy, where we were vesting, we all formed a sort of horseshoe shape and he came around and greeted each one of us individually,” explained Waters.
Despite the fact that “he had a lot of us to get through,” Waters noted, “there was no sense of being rushed. He was very keen to meet everyone. He looked you right into the eye, (and) he gripped your hand ever so tight...He looks right at you and he takes such an interest in you...oh, what an honor!”
“I will treasure that memory forever,” he added.
Irwin, who assisted Pope Francis with the hand-washing before consecration, said that he will carry this experience with him “during the rest of my seminary journey and God willing into my priesthood. It is just wonderful being so close to (the successor of) Peter and having that link with the universal Church.”
Waters felt the same. “Certainly in the future if I get to parish life and things get a little tough, I’ll look back on this day with incredibly fond memories,” he reflected.