Rock Hill Oratorians visit Rome for worldwide Congress

ROCK HILL — Three representatives from the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in the upstate were in Rome recently to revisit the main work of their order’s founder. For Father Joseph A. Wahl, the gathering at the Holy See provided a memory of a lifetime, meeting the Pope John Paul II.

Every six years, all Oratorian congregations meet in Rome for their Congress, which is equivalent to chapters for religious communities.

According to Father Wahl, provost the Oratory in Rock Hill, the purpose of the Congress, formally called The Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, is to return to the charisma, or gifts, of the founder of the Oratory, St. Philip Neri, who lived from 1515 from 1595.

The order began as a lay group including St. Philip, who at age 36 became a priest to provide sacraments to people who had undergone conversion experiences.

“For the 2000 jubilee gathering, the focus was to review and encourage everyone to see what St. Philip did over 400 years ago is as relevant today and is the way to call people to Christ in our times and diverse cultures,” said Father Wahl.

In all, there were 74 Oratorian congregations at the gathering, including representatives from the United States, Italy, Spain, Poland, Germany, England, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, and the Netherlands.

During the visit 230 people were present at a private audience with Pope John Paul II, including 130 delegates, priests and brothers who vote, and about 100 lay auditors.

The representatives from the Rock Hill Oratory were Father Wahl, provost; Father William Pentis, delegate; and Brother Joseph Guyon, delegate.

Toward the end of the audience, it was announced that the Holy Father wished to greet the provosts of each congregation.

Father Wahl said that the procurator general introduced him to the pope, telling the Holy Father he was from South Carolina.

“I told the pope, ‘I saw you in South Carolina in 1987,” said Father Wahl. “He said, ‘Yes, in Columbia.'”

A blessing concluded the memorable exchange.