ROME, ITALY — Even though Thomas Schulzetenberg — pronounced Schull-tzen-berg — comes from great German heritage and is a native Minnesotan, he has a masterful understanding of the English language and especially the Catholic faith.
These are two important prerequisites for the honor that has been bestowed upon him by Pope Francis. The Vatican has asked Schulzetenberg to lector in English during Pope Francis’ Easter Mass April 5 at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass itself is attended by thousands of people and watched on TV by millions more around the world.
“I hope to be doing very little thinking during the actual moment,” said Schulzetenberg through email from his home on the University of Mary Rome campus where he is director and administrator of 25 students that are studying there this semester. “I don’t want to stumble upon a word or make any mistakes! I think I just want people to hear the word of God, and not concentrate on the guy who is speaking it.”
Schulzetenberg, who has attended many masses of Pope Benedict and Francis in his three year tenure as director of the University of Mary Rome campus, believes the opportunity for an American to be reading at any Papal mass is extremely rare. “To my recollection, there is not always an English reader at Papal liturgies and those that do are English speaking from other countries. That being said, it’s all that more impressive I was chosen for this specific event.”
The call came from Fr. Geno Sylva, who works in the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization at the Vatican and who says a mass in English once a week. “He told me he appreciates my work with the University of Mary, and is so impressed by the Mary students that attend his Sunday mass. He feels that our family is not only a good witness to these young men and women, but also a great sign of faithfulness to those pilgrims that attend the Sunday mass. Moreover, he told me that as an English lector, I will be representing not just the University of Mary or the United States, but all English speaking peoples. So, to represent so many people is really humbling.”
Also very humbling to Schulzetenberg is the fact that he is expected to meet Pope Francis in person. “I’ve been told that my family will have special seats, so I’m hoping that we will have a brief opportunity to greet him at some point.”
Schulzetenberg isn’t sure yet which reading he will be assigned or if it will be from the Old Testament or the New Testament. He finds out about all those details Saturday during rehearsal.
“They say that everybody has 15 minutes of fame,” said Schulzetenberg. “Since the reading is not quite that long, I think it will be my five minutes of fame.”
One of Schulzetenberg’s students at the University of Mary Rome campus, Andrew Meyer, already experienced his few minutes of fame in January when he exchanged zucchettos with Pope Francis. It’s unclear whether Schulzetenberg will exchange anything other than a handshake when they meet each other on Easter Sunday.
Schulzetenberg’s students at the University of Mary Rome campus hope to arrive early and have front row seats to the Holy Father’s Easter Mass. Meanwhile, Schulzetenberg’s proud parents back in Greenwald, Minnesota, will also watch it live, but from their living room television beginning at 3:15 a.m. CDT on EWTN.