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What's a pallium?
ROME -- Many people have never heard the word; some know exactly what date each year the ceremony named for it is held; and some are thrilled to be a part of that ceremony because they know someone who will get one of them.
The word? Pallium.
It’s a lambs’ wool stole that the pope presents to newly named archbishops each June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The band of wool is the official symbol of the office of archbishop.
Any metropolitan archbishop, a residential head of an archdiocese, named during the past year -- from the early ones named many months ago to the latecomers such as Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila just named May 29 -- make their way to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to personally receive the pallium from the pope in a special ceremony.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori is among the 44 archbishops (two will not be at the ceremony) who will fill the chairs in front of the altar at St. Peter’s and go up one by one to kneel before the Holy Father to receive this band of cloth.
A group of nearly 100 pilgrims – some from Baltimore and some from his former diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. – are in Rome to be a part of the solemn ceremony and the celebration.
Their week got off to a quick start with Mass at the Pontifical North American College in Rome just hours after landing. Archbishop Lori celebrated the Mass, along with the former Baltimore archbishop presiding -- now Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem -- and still a favorite of the Baltimore-Washington-Arlington area as well as the military archdiocese. Concelebrating were Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden and several priests of the Baltimore archdiocese in a bit of a reunion among the clergy.
The archbishop shared a nice image of the pallium, saying that it “invokes a mandate to imitate the Good Shepherd” by carrying lost sheep around the neck back to the fold.
Wednesday the pilgrims went to the Basilica of St. Clement, an intriguing three-tier building with the lowest level dating to the first century A.D., a second layer dating back to the fourth century, and the top layer a church dating back to circa 1100. More on that later.
The afternoon was spent at the Vatican Museums with guide Liz Lev, a legend among Rome’s guides with her multiple degrees in art history. More on that later.
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz and his wife Marian welcomed American clergy and prelates as well as friends of the American archbishops to their residence in an outdoor evening reception.
Thursday, the archbishop addressed the newly formed Observatory on Religious Liberty. As the face of the U.S. bishops’ struggle for religious liberty – specifically as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom – Archbishop Lori detailed the church’s current concerns about religious freedom.
"Embedded in the HHS mandate is an extremely narrow definition of religion put there as a litmus test to determine which religious organizations are religious enough — by the government's definition — to deserve an exemption from providing services contrary to their teachings," he said. "Unless we stop it now, this narrow governmental definition of what a church is will likely spread throughout our nation's laws and policies."
Just a few hours later, news of the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Obama Administration’s healthcare reform legislation flashed on our cell phones as Archbishop Lori began Mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere where the theme of religious liberty was central. Ironically, he spoke from a pulpit in the shape of a large eagle-like bird, which called to mind a foreground of patriotism.
As Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, the archbishop dined with fellow knights the night before the pallium ceremony.
The main event is Friday, as the crowds pour into St. Peter’s Square to elbow their way for a spot inside the basilica. The motto, as always in Rome, is arrive early, stand your ground and don’t be disappointed if you end up watching it on the big screen outside. More on that later.