Privileged Experience -- From left, Msgr. Edward Arnister, Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski and Father Phillip C. Pfleger will be heading traveling to Rome to witness the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.
Privileged Experience -- From left, Msgr. Edward Arnister, Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski and Father Phillip C. Pfleger will be heading traveling to Rome to witness the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

Three priests from the Diocese of Trenton will be among the millions of faithful present for the Canonization Mass for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II to be celebrated April 27 in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. Msgr. Edward J. Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Belmar; Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, and Father Phillip C. Pfleger, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, will take part in the momentous liturgy as ministers of the Holy Eucharist to the throngs expected to crowd the Square and surrounding areas.

“When [the double canonization] was announced in September, I said to myself, ‘I have to be there,’” remembered Msgr. Arnister. The priest’s former Trenton parish had been merged eight years ago into the city’s Divine Mercy Parish, named for the Feast Day instituted by Pope John Paul II in 2000. He had met the late pontiff on two occasions, once concelebrating Mass with him in his private chapel.

Father Lukaszewski agreed to accompany his classmate immediately, for he, too, had fond memories of Pope John Paul II. During his travels with a group led by two polka band leaders, Father Lukaszewski had his first encounter with the future saint. He recalled, “It was shortly after the attempt on [his] life that we were given a private audience with him in his library. What a joy it was to be introduced to him, to shake his hand and to receive his blessing.”

Father Pfleger, who admitted, “This is my first time to a canonization,” had met Pope John Paul II during a long-ago retreat to Rome with then-Bishop John C. Reiss. “We went to one of his Wednesday audiences,” he recalled. “We got very close to him, had pictures taken with him, thanks to being with the bishop.”

The three priests decided to make a pilgrimage of faith to Rome for the momentous event, but hotel vacancies were scarce. Msgr. Arnister finally secured rooms at the hotel across from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and set his sights on Rome.

“Bishop [David M.] O’Connell graciously wrote to the Vatican on our behalf to see if we could participate,” Msgr. Arnister continued, “and received a letter from the papal master of ceremonies stating concelebration would be limited to cardinals, archbishops and bishops. They did allow priests to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion during the Mass, so the Bishop presented us with a ‘celebret,’ a letter stating we were in good standing in the Diocese.”

“We will have to obtain special tickets to the Mass a couple of days before and on the day of the Mass report by 8:30 a.m. to meet under the statue of St. Peter in the Basilica, dressed in our cassocks and surplices,” Msgr. Arnister reported. 

Promising to keep his parishioners in mind as he sets off on this once-in-a-lifetime journey of faith, Msgr. Arnister published to them on the parish’s website, informing them about his momentous news and inviting their spiritual presence in the form of written intentions he can carry across the ocean.

Father Lukaszewski reflected, “Just being able to go to Rome is very exciting, and to be a part of, even a small part of, this ‘once in a lifetime experience’ [is] just fantastic.” He plans to print a notice in his parish’s Easter Sunday bulletin and “remember not only my parishioners from St. Barnabas, but also the many wonderful friends from St. Mary’s, New Monmouth; Corpus Christi, Willingboro, [and] St. Denis, Manasquan, at that Mass especially and at any other places we will be visiting.”

Father Pfleger admitted to be “absolutely thrilled” as the trip nears. He, too, is asking for prayers from his parish and promises to remember them in prayer while in Rome.