On the first Pentecost, as the apostles were gathered together in prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon them with unexpected power, filling them with new joy and strength.
This initial outpouring of grace in the form of fire continues to be commemorated in the Church’s liturgy nearly 2,000 years later. At St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne, a special tangible reminder of the Holy Spirit’s unexpected action in the world is displayed annually on this feast.
Following the final blessing, hundreds of rose petals begin to fall from high above, reminding those present of the constant outpouring of love that the Holy Trinity longs to bestow upon His Church.
Those who witness and experience this sight are filled with wonder, excitement, and joy. Even for those who have seen it before, the outpouring invokes a profound sense of delight and a reminder that God is simultaneously ever-ancient and ever-new.
The history of this phenomenon extends back to the seventh century. As the apostles went forth to share the truth of the Christian faith across the globe, their efforts, after much persecution, led to the conversion of Rome. The Pantheon, one of Rome’s former pagan temples, was newly consecrated as a Catholic church on May 13, 609, as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Uniquely designed with a large oculus, or circular opening, at its central height, a yearly tradition began at the Pantheon of pouring down rose petals through the oculus at the conclusion of Mass on Pentecost. This ritual continues today, as firefighters in Italy’s state fire service, the Vigili del Fuoco, pour out tens of thousands of petals each year symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Inspired by this visible display of God’s love, Father Andrew Budzinski, Pastor of St. John the Baptist, decided to bring the tradition to Fort Wayne. For the last six years, the final Mass of Pentecost Sunday weekend at St. John the Baptist has been highlighted by a shower of rose petals from on high.
As the petals fall, growing exclamations of delight are heard among the congregation. Once the recessional hymn concluded, petals continued to pour down, with youth and adults alike displaying a childlike joy at the scene. Some ran up to try and catch the petals, while others simply marveled at the sight.
In his homily for the feast, Father Budzinski remarked on the necessity to provide a visible witness of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty to bring more souls to Christ. He recounted his amazement and gratitude that the parish’s unassuming “free Catholic books” library on the street corner behind the church had recently been the catalyst for a couple walking through the neighborhood to enter RCIA. Father Budzinski reminded his parishioners that Jesus asks His disciples to be in daily relationship with Him, to become filled with His divine life. From there, the Lord sends His followers out to invite others to encounter the joy of this relationship. He added that Parochial Vicar Father Paolo Degasperi, who will soon become Pastor of St. John the Baptist, had recently challenged members of the parish to prayerfully consider who the Lord might be nudging them to invite to Mass in the future.
Some in attendance who do not belong to St. John the Baptist but were invited to witness the beauty of this Mass with the roses remarked that the experience was both enjoyable and edifying.
For others who have seen the display in prior years, the event has become something special to look forward to. Parishioner Dr. Lewis Pearson, a Professor of Philosophy and Interim Dean in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business at the University of St. Francis, wore a rather unique suit specifically for the occasion. With a noticeable display of bright red flowers upon a black background, his appearance garnered the attention of Father Budzinski, Father Degasperi, and several parishioners both before and after Mass.
Pearson shared, “Wearing a suit is a way to show respect to others (at least, that’s how I was raised growing up in the South), and wearing that (particular) suit is a way to share some fun with others. I’m so grateful for the joy and vitality that God gives us in the gifts of his Church and the Holy Spirit. It’s hard to be gloomy either wearing or looking at something so colorful and vibrant. It makes gratitude so much easier and almost reflexive. You saw the joy on the faces of all the children trying to catch the rose petals — it’s like that. And to reference Father Andrew’s homily, things like showers of rose petals and rose-printed suits can serve as a kind of witness, turning an event or a person into a ‘library on the corner.’ When people look and smile at such spectacles, it’s a great opportunity to greet them with a ‘Happy Pentecost!’”
The Pentecost tradition begun in Rome came full circle for Father Budzinski in 2018. He shared that after the first year his parish embraced this custom, he traveled to the Vatican for the diaconate ordination of now Father Spenser St. Louis. He stated, “After arriving in Rome, I reached into my pocket for something and one of the petals from St. John’s was in there. And I didn’t put it in there! But I took it to the Pantheon, wrote St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne, and the year on it, and left it on the floor in the center of the church where they throw the rose petals.” He emphasized that the ways of the Lord are quite mysterious, but always for the purpose of drawing us more deeply into His love.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.