The Diocese of Knoxville’s Eucharistic Congress is underway at the Sevierville Convention Center. On Friday evening, Bishop Richard Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali had the crowd laughing as they began an entertaining conversation about the Cardinal’s early career. There were serious moments too, but the Bishop had a joke for almost every one of the Cardinal’s stories.
Cardinal Rigali told of his experience at the Vatican Council in 1962, which was only one year after he was ordained. Then-Father Rigali was very impressed by the kindness of Pope John XXIII. That was followed by a moving story about his assignment in Madagascar. He visited leper colonies and got an understanding of the missionary church.
After that, Fr. Rigali returned to the Vatican to serve as the English translator for Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I. He was one of the last people to see John Paul I alive. Bishop Stika led the Cardinal into stories about Pope John Paul II, including his memories of being present when the Pope was shot and of the Pope’s visit to St. Louis.
Cardinal Rigali had stories about Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis too. On the day of Benedict’s election, he remembered to wish Cardinal Rigali a happy birthday. Pope Francis gave the Cardinal a written blessing for Knoxville on the second day of his papacy. The Vatican now wants a copy of it for their archives.
At the end of the conversation, the crowd gave a standing ovation to the Cardinal and the Bishop. The attendees didn’t want the night to end. Deacon Sean Smith needed the convention center cleared but the people weren’t moving. I took the mic and used my serious announcer voice to declare that “the convention center was now closed.” It worked and I told Deacon Sean that I really knew how to clear a room.