While visiting New York City in late September to see Pope Francis, Deacon Robert Colomaio made an unexpected Rochester connection — by way of Africa.
New York City marked the second leg of Pope Francis’ five-day tour of the United States, which began in Washington, D.C., and ended in Philadelphia on Sept. 27. Deacon Colomaio and his wife, Pam, arrived in the Big Apple on Sept. 24 along with their friends Judy and Jerry Harris. All four are from St. John Vianney Parish (St. Mary, Bath/St. Gabriel, Hammondsport), where Deacon Colomaio serves as parish deacon.
The next morning, the Harrises took off for Central Park to begin the process of getting in line for a 5 p.m. papal motorcade. At that point the Colomaios had some free time before the pope’s 6 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden, so they took a stroll in Times Square. There, they witnessed among the sizable crowd a man dressed like Pope Francis riding a bicycle. The Colomaios also had their picture taken with a wax Pope Francis figure at Madame Tussauds.
Eventually it was time for the Colomaios to prepare to see the real thing. As they began walking toward Madison Square Garden to get in line, Deacon Colomaio spotted a man dressed in archbishop’s clothing who was headed in the same direction as them. He turned out to be Archbishop Gabriel Anokye, who since 2013 has headed the Archdiocese of Kumasi in the southern part of Ghana.
"After introducing ourselves, he stated that he was familiar with Rochester, and had some of his priests assigned to the Southern Tier," noted Deacon Colomaio, who was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2009.
That piece of information prompted the Colomaios to buzz up their friend Father Peter Anglaaere, who also is from Ghana, so he could speak with Archbishop Anokye. Father Anglaaere, who has served in the Rochester Diocese since 2005, is currently the pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hornell and also the former sacramental minister at St. John Vianney.
As Archbishop Anokye and Father Anglaaere chatted on the phone, the archbishop noted that he knows Father Anglaaere’s uncle, Archbishop Philip Naameh of Tamale, North Ghana. Tamale and Kumasi are two of only four archdioceses in the western African country along with more than a dozen dioceses.
"It was wonderful to have them connect with each other," Deacon Colomaio said.
After the phone call ended, the Colomaios offered to walk with Archbishop Anokye and keep him company the rest of the way "as he was interested in being amongst the people, much like Pope Francis likes to be," Deacon Colomaio said.
Archbishop Anokye stood in line with the Bath couple for about two hours; after going through security they said their goodbyes. At that point the Colomaios joined a group of approximately 30 people from the Rochester Diocese for the papal Mass.
"It was truly an honor to be included amongst the 20,000 people to celebrate the Holy Mass with Pope Francis," said Deacon Colomaio, who also was on hand in 2008 at Yankee Stadium when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass there. In addition, he saw St. John Paul II in the 1980s in Rome during a general audience.
Deacon Colomaio said that while in Madison Square Garden he was overwhelmed by being in the presence of the successor to Peter and "to breathe the same air as Pope Francis." He also was humbled by sharing "the same experience of healing, hope and mercy as cardinals, archbishops, bishops, clergy, religious, governors, senators, celebrities and common folk from all over the greater New York area and the world."
"What an awesome experience," he concluded.