America’s oldest parish got an important visitor Monday as the ambassador representing Pope Francis of Rome came calling at the Cathedral Basilica and had a tour of some of the sites that are historically significant to the establishment of the Catholic Church on these shores.
Father Tom Willis said the visit was brief, but that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò - whose official title is Apostolic Nuncio to the United States – had time for a tour of the Basilica and the Mission Nombre de Dios. The mission grounds (site of the great cross –world’s tallest at 208-ft) is where the oldest city’s founder, Pedro Menendez landed in September, 1565, and where the first Catholic mass and prayers were conducted after several perilous months at sea.
St. Augustine is important in church history as the first Catholic parish to be established on the North American continent.
“I would say that he (Ambassador Viganò) was very impressed with the historical and spiritual heritage that we have here in St. Augustine,” Fr. Willis said. “He seemed inspired by the statue of the Victorious Risen Christ that is central to the Cathedral’s main sanctuary. As well, he was quite interested with the replica baptismal font in which Juan Ponce de Leon was baptized.”
The font was a gift from the people of Santervas de Campos in Spain to the City of St. Augustine commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Juan Ponce’s landing in Florida in 1513. It was placed in the Cathedral and blessed in April of this year. The font is used for baptisms and can be viewed at its place to the left of the basilica’s altar.
Read more about the gift of the font and the Santervas Mayor’s visit to St. Augustine in the examiner.com article and slideshow: Tale of two cities: St Augustine's cultural exchange with Ponce de Leon hometown
The ambassador also visited the Cathedral Parish School and the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Fr. Willis said the ambassador’s position is important in that he is the pope’s representative for all matters that deal with the relationship between the Vatican and the federal government. He also serves as the liaison between the Holy See and the Catholic bishops in America. Archbishop Viganò was accompanied by Bishop Felipe Estévez accompanied Archbishop Viganò during the tour, in which Fr. Willis said he was delighted to share the story of America’s First Parish and various aspects of the Cathedral.
Fr. Willis said he also assured the archbishop of the “prayerful support” of Cathedral parishioners for Pope Francis. “As a minor basilica and the connection with have with the Holy Father in his ministry, I asked the Nuncio to convey to Pope Francis our affection and continued prayers.”
Meanwhile, a newly released Forbes Magazine article declares Pope Francis “a social media star” with viral hits on his “selfie” cell phone photos and eight million Twitter followers – three million for his tweets in English alone. He also tweets in Latin, German, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Arabic, and often hashtags his tweets #prayforpeace. His Twitter handle is @Pontifex.