Auburn priest visits Vatican - Catholic Courier

Auburn priest visits Vatican

Many people return from retreat experiences feeling refreshed and inspired. The same is true of Father Ralph Fraats, but he also came back from his most recent retreat with 500 rosaries that had been blessed by Pope John Paul II.

Father Fraats, priest in residence at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Auburn, accompanied Bishop Matthew H. Clark to Rome for the bishop’s ad limina visit in early October. While in Rome, Father Fraats experienced his fourth private audience with the pope on Oct. 8, the priest’s 71st birthday.

Father Fraats had his first private audience with the pope during Bishop Clark’s 1988 ad limina visit. At the time, Father Fraats was studying at the North American College in Rome on a three-month sabbatical. The bishop was staying at the college and was looking for someone from the diocese to accompany him on his audience with the pope, Father Fraats said.

“He asked me to go, and that got the ball rolling,” said Father Fraats, noting that since that time he’s accompanied Bishop Clark on each ad limina visit. For these visits — scheduled every five years on a rotating basis — the bishops of the world travel “to the thresholds of the Apostles” to report on the status of their dioceses.

A private papal audience is a formal affair, Father Fraats said. Also joining the bishop for his audience this year were Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center; and Edison Tayag, a diocesan seminarian studying in Rome. The pope’s aides coached the four men on protocol before they were admitted into his small library.

“You are told … where you are to stand, how you are to approach, what you are to say. It’s very well-organized,” Father Fraats said. “I went in last because I had this big batch of hundreds of rosaries that I had bought on my way to the audience for him to bless for the people of the parish.”

As soon as Father Fraats entered the room and even before he was asked to do so, the pope blessed the basket of 500 rosaries, which would eventually be distributed to St. Francis of Assisi parishioners.

After the four men had kissed the pope’s hand, Father Fraats said each received a black and silver rosary with a crucifix modeled on the crucifix of Pope John Paul II’s crosier. In previous audiences, the rosaries Father Fraats received from the pope had been mother-of-pearl, but all carry the pope’s unique crucifix, he said.

Because of the pope’s declining health, this year’s audience was shorter and took place in a smaller library, he added. Father Fraats said he was not distracted by the pope’s condition, however.

“When you meet him … there’s no distractions. He captivates you completely,” he said.

The pope captivated 65,000 people when he prayed The Angelus and delivered an address in St. Peter’s Square several days later, Father Fraats said. The pope’s greeting and prayer, which he delivered in a strong voice, lasted about 12 minutes, he said.

“Before he said anything, when he approached the window the people in the square became electrified,” Father Fraats said. The people realized “there was the successor of Peter, still with them, and that was the important thing.”

Although Father Fraats has seen the pope several times, being in his presence is always an “exhilarating” experience, he said. He had the honor of concelebrating a Mass with the pope in 1988 and, for the first time in his life, experienced total silence and an awareness of the presence of true power.

On his most recent visit to Rome, Father Fraats also said Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, where he said he had often celebrated liturgy during his studies at the North American College. He also took a day trip to Assisi with Bishop Clark, Father Hart and Tayag. Overall, his retreat was a memorable experience, he said.

“It was special to me,” he said. “It’s like the battery being charged up again.”

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