Father John Bateman, a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg, returned to the Diocese this summer following more than three years in Rome, where he served as Secretary to the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and earned a degree Canon Law. Currently serving as a Canonical Consultant in the Diocesan Tribunal, Father Bateman offered this reflection on his time of service and study in Rome:
It is SO good to be home! After three-plus years living/working/studying in Rome, I am very happy to be back in the Diocese. My journey to Rome to work for Cardinal O’Brien (who is the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem), receive my degree in Canon Law and actually become a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre was truly led by God. The blessings that God has showered upon me these past three-and-a-half years are clear evidence of the Lord’s presence and direction.
As with each time of transition in our lives, the end of my time in Rome allowed me to reflect on my experience there and things that I have seen or understood more clearly. I write to share with you some of my own personal thoughts and insights.
The Universal Church. One of the wonderful things about my work for Cardinal O’Brien and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre was the opportunity to have an experience of the Universal Church. The Grand Master, Cardinal O’Brien, works very diligently to personally visit as many members of the Order as possible, and so travel was a normal part of life.
We were not making tourist trips, but pastoral and spiritual journeys –and every one of them allowed me to gain a tremendous experience of the worldwide Church. Visiting the members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre throughout Italy and Europe, in South Africa and South America, in Australia, Asia and North America enabled me to see the One, Holy, Catholic Church as her people live the faith in their particular cultural and historical situations. Yet, through it all, despite differences of culture and language, we are One Body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-27).
The Importance of Pilgrimage. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and see Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the Upper Room, Mount Calvary and, of course, the empty Tomb, you know how your faith-life is changed by such an journey. One of the responsibilities (and joys) of members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, whose sole purpose is to support the Church and the Christians in the Holy Land, is to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There, they have the opportunity to meet the “living stones” of Christ’s Holy Land: the Christian people who live in Palestine, Israel and Jordan.
How remarkable it is to see not only the historic sites, but to be enriched by visits to the people of lively parishes; to places of refuge and care that comfort the sick and elderly; to places of education at the many schools of the Latin Patriarchate and Bethlehem University in Palestine, where Christians and Muslims study together with a spirit of joy, peace and mutual respect and understanding.
If our lives are changed by seeing the places of the Holy Land, how can they not also be changed by encounters with the “living stones?” Through pilgrimages to the Holy Land with the Order or my own personal pilgrimages, my eyes and heart have been opened to a greater faith and deeper love and concern for the often persecuted Christians of the Holy Land.
The Institutional Church. Living in Rome is a unique experience. To be so close to our Holy Father and the tombs of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (St. Paul is my Confirmation patron) and to so many saints who lived and worked and died in Rome helped me to better love the Church.
For some people, the Church might appear to be a bureaucratic structure, and certainly that exists because we are human beings in need of structure. But what most are not able to see or experience is the humanity of the Institutional Church: so many men and women, priests, men and women religious, who all work diligently and faithfully to build up and provide for the needs of the Church through their work in the Roman Curia. My experiences in Rome allowed me to see the love and sincere concern that they all have to help provide for the needs of God’s people from every part of the world. Certainly there’s a bureaucracy involved, but I will never forget the human faces of all those working so hard behind the Vatican walls.
The Spirit of Gratitude. While reflecting on my time in Rome, the most overwhelming sense that I have is a spirit of gratitude: First, gratitude to God for having called me to work and live for a few years in the Eternal City of Rome; gratitude to Bishop Gainer for having allowed me this unique opportunity; gratitude for all the people that I was privileged to meet and to serve during my time of service to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; gratitude to Cardinal O’Brien, with whom I worked so closely and whose humility, spirituality and love have helped to continue forming my priestly-heart. But, most of all, gratitude to be HOME! – to be back among you, the people of God here in the Diocese of Harrisburg.