By Ed Brock
Justin Ferguson is not yet a priest, but he has already participated in the making of a pope.
Ferguson, a 27-year-old seminary student in Rome, was picked to read from Scripture at the installation Mass of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
"Despite not knowing exactly how I was chosen for this task of proclaiming the word of God to hundreds of thousands of people, I must say that I felt very honored," Ferguson wrote in an e-mail about his experience. Ferguson grew up in Jonesboro and was a member of the St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Jonesboro where his parents, Carroll and Carol Ferguson, are still members of the congregation.
His two brothers also studied to be priests, but both decided to get married and dropped out of the seminary. Carol Ferguson said Justin, who has been studying in Rome for three years, is scheduled to return from his studies in Rome to a parish in Macon for the summer, and then he'll return to Rome. A year from June he will be ordained a priest in the diocese of Savannah.
Ferguson said there were subtle hints of his call to the priesthood while he was growing up, but he fully realized the need to explore the calling after a 1998 business trip to Rome.
"During this trip I was struck with a profound sense of Christian history, which was seen in the art, architecture, ruins of greatness and tombs of many Christian martyrs," Ferguson wrote. "It was a very powerful experience."
Ferguson said his calling to the priesthood is a call to a "greater union with God and love of Him." It is something he has chosen to live out with joy and peace.
As for how he was picked to participate in the installation mass, Justin Ferguson said the Master of Ceremonies at the Vatican contacted the rector at the American seminary.
"After consultation with other priests of the faculty of the seminary, my name seems to have been chosen, which led to one of the priests on faculty approaching me on Friday to ask if I would be willing to be the lector at the mass" Ferguson wrote. "So the two days preceding the mass I was to be seen walking around Rome with a huge smile of joy on my face in shock that this was going to take place."
On the Saturday before the mass Ferguson went to a review for the mass, then on Sunday he woke up early and was at his special seating by 8:30 a.m. Rome time. As he waited he was "struck with a profound sense of peace and joy."
"I am certain that this peace came from the Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother Mary," Ferguson wrote.
During that hour of waiting Ferguson also recited the rosary to calm himself, an act that he said gave him the tranquility he needed for the task ahead.
"The joy that I felt came from the sounds of the crowds resonating in my ears. Their cries of "Benedetto" and "Viva il Papa" still sound in my ears," Ferguson wrote. "There was such a great sense of this joy coming from the people that it was impossible for anyone present not to take a part in this jubilation."
The experience was one he will cherish "for the rest of my earthly life" and he hopes to share the same excitement when he returns to Georgia to be a priest.
"I know that somehow in God's providential plan that this experience will add to my future priestly life," Ferguson said.
Carol Ferguson said she didn't watch the mass live due to the time difference.
"Our two sons that are still here got up at 4 a.m.," Carol Ferguson said.
Ferguson watched the mass later on the Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic station broadcast out of Birmingham, Ala. that played showings of the mass several times.
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