Pope John Paul II as Bishop of Rome had made visits to the diocese's 336 parishes a priority of his pontificate and, up to Feb. 24, 2002, when a terribly painful arthritic knee impeded him from fulfilling a visit to the Church of St. Pudentiana, he had visited 301 of these churches, including a number built in recent years.
Over time, a certain format developed for these parish visits, including lunch in the Vatican with the pastors and their assistants on the Wednesday preceding the papal visit. Sunday mornings, following his arrival at the church, the Pope spent quality time with very young children and with teen-agers, celebrated the Eucharist and then met with the pastors and members of the parish council.
When physical mobility and trips outside the Vatican became a challenge for the Holy Father, parish visits were suspended — much to the Pope's dismay, as he had always cherished these moments with the faithful of his diocese.
On Feb. 28, John Paul resumed his beloved parish visits — except that now the pastors and faithful come to him. At 6 p.m. that day, in the Paul VI Hall, he welcomed the faithful from the parishes of St. Anselm, Mary Star of Evangelization, St. Charles Borromeo and St. John the Baptist de la Salle, celebrating Mass and greeting parishioners, especially children and young people, the sick and elderly and members of the parish council.
Two more appointments with the faithful from Rome's parishes are on the papal agenda for this month. On March 20 he will welcome parishioners from St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Patrick, St. Mary Mediatrix and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
One week later — and just a week before Palm Sunday and his rendezvous with young people in St. Peter's Square for World Youth Day celebrations — the faithful from St. John of the Cross, St. Felicity and Sts. Chrysanthus and Daria will go to the Vatican for Mass and a meeting with their bishop.
Some Vatican observers have remarked that, with the advent of warm spring weather, John Paul might even return to Roman churches, selecting parishes that have easily accessible entrances in order to fulfill his ardent desire to personally visit all 336 Roman parish churches.
— Joan Lewis