The story begins with Father Pasquale Di Dio waiting for Pope Francis outside the Vatican parish of Sant’Anna on March 17, standing next to an Argentinian priest.
“The Pope,” Fr. Di Dio related in an April 2 interview with CNA, “recognized and called by name the Argentinian priest, telling him to come into the church. I followed him. This is how I could have access to the Mass in Sant’Anna.”
After the Mass, Fr. Di Dio gave the Pope’s secretary, Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, a letter for Pope Francis.
“In the letter,” he explained, “I asked for special blessings for my family.”
But Fr. Di Dio was surprised to receive a phone call at 9:00 p.m. on April 1 from Msgr. Xuereb, who told him, “the Pope would be pleased to have you and your family at the morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Martae, on April the 2nd.”
So, he quickly looked for a plane from Sicily to get him and his family to Rome in time for the Pope’s 7:30 a.m. Mass the next morning.
After the Mass, the Pope invited the priest and his family to have breakfast with him.
“During the breakfast, Fr. Di Dio told the Pope that he is my secretary,” Bishop Michele Pennisi explained in an April 2 conversation.
Then “Pope Francis asked Fr. Di Dio to call me. When I answered, he just told me that the Pope was on the line.”
Bishop Pennisi is currently the administrator of the Piazza Armerina diocese, but he has already been appointed Archbishop of Monreale, where he will be installed on April 27.
Bishop Pennisi recounts: “I also was at Sant’Anna on March 17. I did not attend the celebration, but I was in Rome, and so Fr. Di Dio called me inviting me to go.”
Bishop Pennisi arrived in time to see the Pope exit the parish and was able to greet him.
He gave the Pope a letter asking for prayers for his diocese, and the bishop said “the Pope assured me his prayers for the Diocese of Piazza Armerina, which I will be leaving in a few days, and for the Archdiocese of Monreale.
“He also told me that he wishes to visit Sicily as soon as possible.”
“It seems like John Paul II’s times are back,” Bishop Pennisi remarked.
John Paul II used to invite people to attend the Mass he held in his private chapel in the early morning and then for breakfast or lunch.
It was such a common habit that Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio, encouraged the Italian journalist Angela Ambrogetti to write a book about John Paul II's "informal" lunch table conversations.
In the end, she authored two books in Italian on the press conferences Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI held as they flew to visit the Church overseas.
Some might call it fate, but through a series of providential connections, Bishop Michele Pennisi discovered that Pope Francis wants to visit Sicily “as soon as possible.”
Papal Visits, Pope Francis