“Please pray for me.”
That was Pope Francis’ humble request of Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera and parishioners of the 11-county diocese as the leader of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholics met with the leader of the world’s largest Christian Church on Wednesday during an audience in Vatican City.
Bambera is in Italy with 117 local pilgrims, representing all counties in the diocese, as part of a “Year of Faith” pilgrimage that began Saturday and will continue through Tuesday.
The “Year of Faith,” which began on Oct. 11, 2012, runs through Nov. 24. It was decreed by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in part to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, which opened on Oct. 11, 1962.
Local pilgrims are being led on their journey by Bambera, accompanied by the Rev. Thomas M. Muldowney, vicar general of the diocese; the Rev. Andrew S. Hvozdovic, coordinator of diocesan pilgrimages; and the Rev. Brian J.T. Clarke, master of ceremonies for the bishop.
The Northeastern Pennsylvania contingent on Wednesday joined with 80,000 pilgrims from around the world for the weekly audience with Francis, who was elected to the role on March 13, after the resignation of Benedict on Feb. 28.
In his address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Francis reflected upon Mary as a model of faith and charity for all believers.
Diocesan officials said the presence of local pilgrims was announced during the audience, with Bambera and Muldowney given the opportunity to personally meet the pontiff.
Bambera thanked the pope “for his great example and invitation to all of the faithful to generous service in the Church,” according to the diocese. Francis responded that he was grateful for the bishop’s words and asked the bishop and faithful of the diocese to pray for him.
The pilgrimage itinerary also includes liturgies and visits to the Vatican and holy sites in several other cities: San Giovanni Rotondo, birthplace and home of Saint Padre Pio; Assisi, the native land of Saint Francis; Gubbio, sister city of Jessup, in Lackawanna County; Florence, known as the “Cradle of the Renaissance;” and Milan, Italy’s second largest city and the capitol of the Lombardy region.