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A Papal Parade

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By Chris Sparks (Sep 23, 2015)
During the papal visit, we'll be sharing commentary, photos, and on-the-scene accounts of Pope Francis' first trip to the United States. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, Sept. 23
Memorial of St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest (Padre Pio)
9:30 p.m.
Some of the Marians shared with me their view of the Mass of Canonization.

Brother Joe Lappe, MIC, was one of the men in formation who got to be inside the Basilica during the Mass, and see the Pope briefly beforehand. He said that he found the experience unexpectedly somber.

"When he came in," Br. Joe said of the Holy Father, "he was preparing for Mass," moving into deep prayer, especially in the time he spent in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel praying.

The flowers the Holy Father brought across were probably placed beneath one of the great mosaics of Our Lady in the Basilica, Br. Joe confirmed.

"He's not looking for celebrity," said Br. Joe of the Holy Father. "He just goes out and does his job with a charitable heart," prioritizing outreach to the fallen away, not those who are at home in the Church. Hence the outreach to the secular world in D.C., while modeling silence and prayer for those in religious formation and seminary.

Father Mark Baron, MIC, one of the concelebrants of the Mass of Canonization, took a slightly different tack on the whole affair.

"At these papal events, the air is thick with the Holy Spirit," he explained, "and people are susceptible to being inspired. Pope Francis, by his very nature, has the ability to challenge people to get out of their comfort zones, to avoid the numbness of their hearts."

And that may be the best comment on the day I get.

9:20 p.m.
Getting back to CUA from the media center in downtown D.C. was a unique experience. The mass of people coming from the Mass of Canonization was so great, the Metro system simply refused to allow anyone to get off the Metro at the CUA stop. People could only get on.

This was announced, loudly, repeatedly, and with great vigor, by the conductor of the metro I was on. Only he hadn't quite picked up the pronunciation of "papal." We were warned of the station closure because of the "paypal" visit.

It was pretty funny. The night got funnier.

One thing I forgot to mention earlier: At the security screening area for the papal parade, there were the inevitable lines. There was also a gentleman who was determined to use his loudspeaker and loud arguing with those around him to save the souls of the benighted Catholics all streaming to see the Pope. One brave soul was attempting to reason with the man.

Later, after the parade was over, as I was walking with the crowds of people back into the city, we passed a number of folks attempting to pass out various faded-looking magazines, glossy brochures, or other means of getting their message out. At one point, I passed a gentleman in white shirt and tie with a large piece of luggage announcing that one only need ask in order to receive a free Bible.

Now, in the nighttime, all around the formerly locked-down CUA campus, everything resembled some rather fictional street carnival. Patches of crowd floated by in full habit or clerics, while the lay people often had matching shirts identifying their parish or movement.

And on many street corners, beside the folks offering papal flags, papal pictures, and pretty much papal anything for sale, there were the folks predicting the end of the world in a month, or the people with the dramatically decorated van, declaring all sorts of awful things impending.

So there's a few different ways to look at this. One way is to say, "Oh, how awful that people would attempt to exploit the papal visit by making it an opportunity to make money!" Or, "Oh, how awful that people would attempt to turn people away from their faith when the Pope came to town!"

And then there's the Pope Francis way: "Look! The people on the peripheries, the outskirts, the margins, have come to us! How shall we reach them?"

Why was there only the one brave soul attempting to reason with the man with the loudspeaker? Why were we simply walking right by so many people offering their literature? Why didn't we make a greater effort to serve where the need was greatest when those on the margins had made such an effort to try and come to us?

Now, I'm sure there were more Catholics responding than the one I saw. But it really was a wake up call. Our faith matters so much that people who don't share it can't seem to stop attacking it, or trying to take us out of it. For other people, our faith is a matter of life or death, heaven or hell. Do we remember that they're right about how important Catholicism is, even as they're wrong about what, exactly, it is?

5:30 p.m.
Starkly, simply: Pope Francis is preaching the Gospel. He's repeating the teaching of the One who said that it was necessary to pour out your life in order to save it, to give everything away in order to receive the One who is the Source of all that is. He's calling us to have joy in Christ, and then to give that joy away. Then guess what? Your joy will increase.

He closes by asking the people to always echo St. Junipero Serra, always be seeking to go forward.

5:15 p.m.
The Holy Father opens his homily with a characteristic and classic citation from Scripture: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" (Phil 4:4). He has spoken again and again of the vital importance for Christian evangelists to have the joy of Christ. That pairing of joy and evangelization was at the heart of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the "programmatic" document for this pontificate.

5 p.m.
As the Mass continues, it's worth noting that the canonization of St. Junipero Serra, a Franciscan, took place on the feast of one of the most famous of Franciscans: St. Pius of Pietrelcina, better known to the Church and the world as Padre Pio (1887-1968). Both men, in their own ways, were tireless evangelists. Saint Junipero evangelized by tireless travel and ministry amongst the missions; St. Padre Pio evangelized through tireless suffering, prayer, and miracles. Amongst those miracles was the miracle of bilocation. He was often simultaneously seen in Our Lady of Grace friary and in places all across the world, bringing healing to the sick, aid to those in need, and comfort to the sorrowing. Through the confessional, Padre Pio brought his mystical gifts to bear in much the same way St. Jean Vianney had in the early 1800s: reading hearts and telling the penitents of their sins.

Given the fact that the Holy Father has arranged for the relics of St. Padre Pio to be present in St. Peter's Basilica on Ash Wednesday, 2016, the timing may not be coincidence. Padre Pio's relics will be present during the commissioning of the missionaries of mercy, those priests who will be empowered to forgive all sins, including those sins usually reserved to the Holy See, and charged with preaching mercy throughout the world during Lent of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Proclaiming mercy is the method of the new evangelization, and St. Junipero Serra is ideally placed to be a powerful intercessor and model of zeal for evangelization in the Jubilee Year.

4:50 p.m.
It's done. The Holy Father has officially declared Junipero Serra a saint of the Catholic Church. A relic of the new saint is now being brought forward for public veneration.

Cardinal Wuerl is thanking the Holy Father for the canonization taking place in the U.S., in the Archdiocese of Washington, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

4:45 p.m.
The Mass opens with the reading of the petition for the canonization of Junipero Serra. Here's a homily from the Holy Father, given earlier this year at the North American College in Rome, on Junipero Serra. The emphasis, then and now, is on Junipero Serra's outstanding work as an evangelist, bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In Fr. Serra, we see someone who lived the call of St. Francis Xavier to the scholars of his day, cited by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, in The 'One Thing' is Three:

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: There is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: "What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!"

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

Junipero Serra was a scholar who did just that. He left his books and his studies behind and went west. Thanks to him, there exist a whole string of California missions, many still standing to this day, and a legacy of Catholicism in California that stretches across several centuries.

Now, aspects of that legacy are controversial today. The Spanish conquistadors were not often gentle or merciful conquerors of the native populations of the New World. Much blood was shed, many died of various diseases to which they had no immunity, and Spanish culture was sometimes imposed, not offered.

And yet, in Serra, Pope Francis is convinced, we have a model of a man who poured himself out for God and neighbor, who was animated by the spirit of charity, and who, despite his flaws, should be recognized as a holy man, as a saint. Indeed, in his homily from earlier in the year, Pope Francis identifies Junipero Serra as one of the "many missionaries who brought the Gospel to the New World and, at the same time, defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers."

4:30 p.m.
The Mass begins, about half an hour late. The choir is powerful, in full voice, and beautiful. There's a sea of bishops near the front before the altar. It's always enormously inspiring at events like this that draw together the Church from across the country and around the world to see the Mystical Body of Christ gathered. Bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful, all coming together to celebrate the Mass: It's times like these that Catholic unity is made visibly manifest, and the bonds of charity that extend across race, across national boundaries, across ages and classes become visibly manifest.

4:10 p.m.
He's inside the Basilica now, visiting with seminarians and men and women religious in formation. Some of them were quite determined to be able to touch even the hem of his garment as he went by. Shades of the One whom he serves, I suppose.

A brief visit; he walked through, stood before them, waved, blessed them, and moved on. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm in the room was a sight to see.

Pope Francis is pausing to pray in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel now, the Vicar of Christ standing before his Lord ahead of the Mass.

Now he's taking a large bouquet of white flowers across and laying it, I believe, at the feet of an image of the Blessed Virgin.

3:50
The Holy Father is arriving by Popemobile, waving to the crowd, offering his blessing.

3:30
The bishops are passing in procession on the campus of CUA ahead of the papal Mass of Canonization for Junipero Serra, the great Franciscan evangelist. The Knights of Columbus are leading that procession up the aisle before the main altar.

It's a very packed house for the Mass of Canonization. A lot of people are on hand to witness history in the making. Again, as was mentioned yesterday, this is the first time a pope is performing the Mass of Canonization for a saint on U.S. soil.

2:30 p.m.
The successor of Peter met with the successors to the apostles who serve the Church in the U.S. in St. Matthew's Cathedral. As was remarked upon yesterday, Pope Francis has a special connection to St. Matthew since he first heard God's call to become a priest. The tax collector-turned-apostle serves as a model for this Pope and for all Christians, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and yet all of us are chosen for life eternal in the kingdom of God, if only we say yes to the Divine Mercy. Hence, the Holy Father's papal motto, "Miserando atque eligendo;" lowly but chosen; literally in Latin "by having mercy, by choosing him."

Take the time to go and read the whole address. It's not just a talk given by a bishop to bishops, but rather Pope Francis' message to the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. It's meant for all of us, and relevant to every last one of us: words of love and appreciation from the Holy Father for all that we have done and continue to do in service of Jesus Christ and his Bride.

For all you devotees of Divine Mercy out there who listen to Jesus' call to perform works of mercy every day, check out this excerpt:

Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God … know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God's grace still able to support and encourage.

On the life issues:

I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.

On the sex abuse crisis:

I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.



The Holy Father exhorted his brother bishops to be true pastors, shepherds close to their flock. They need to train those under them to be willing to set aside their plans and agendas in order to serve those in need before them. The Holy Father dwelt on the importance of dialog, encounter, especially between those well-to-do and those on the margins of society. Harsh words have no place on a shepherd's tongue, said Pope Francis, emphasizing that unity is the key task of the bishops as successors to the apostles.

In that light, the Holy Father brought up the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:

May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God's heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like "a city built on a hill" (Mt 5:14).

12 p.m.
The speeches have been given. The Holy Father's address was truly Catholic in the scope of its concerns. He mentioned how pleased he, the son of immigrant parents, was to be here in a country built largely by immigrant families. Pope Francis spoke of going to the World Meeting of Families "to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization."

He emphasized Catholic willingness to help build a tolerant and inclusive society, but one which was "a just and wisely ordered society" that was faithful to America's founding principles, especially religious liberty.

He then spoke warmly of President Obama's efforts to reduce air pollution and care for "our common home" in words recalling the title of his recent encyclical letter, Laduato Si' (On Care for Our Common Home). (For more on the encyclical from the Marians, see here.) Pope Francis cast care for the environment in terms of caring for the excluded, identifying that common home, the environment, as one of the many "excluded" left out in the cold by the present global system of politics and economics.

Pope Francis called for unity in the face of the challenges facing the world through care for the common home and care for the least among us, tying together integral development with proper care for the poor.

For the full address, see here.

Those in attendance included President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden (the first Catholic vice president), Secretary of State John Kerry, and a crowded lawn of dignitaries and notables from across the Catholic, interreligious, and secular spectrums.

President Obama's speech paid tribute to the many Catholic contributions to "strengthening" our society, including educating children, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and so much more. The president particularly singled out the Pope's oft-repeated message of mercy and his emphasis on true worth coming from service to others, not power, money, or the other ways of the world. President Obama also acknowledged the emphasis the Holy Father placed on the importance of religious liberty.

Following the public ceremonies, Pope Francis and President Obama had a private conversation at the White House. Then, after Pope Francis was scheduled to have begun meeting with the bishops of the United States at St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown D.C., the papal parade began.

It's amazing how the little things count all of a sudden when you're waiting to try to take a picture of the Pope. The couple in front of me, for example, kept having their kids hoist a papal flag to wave whenever a security vehicle came by or the police or feds in front of us became particularly alert.

Another family had a small, crying child who got hoisted on Dad's shoulders.

The children were cute; don't get me wrong. And it's tremendous that one of their earliest memories will be the time they got to be in the front row of the crowds at the papal parade in D.C. But for the sake of the poor photographer who's a mere two or three people back ...

But then it all didn't matter, because there was the actual beginning of the motorcade (a lot of motorcycles, geez) and more security vehicles. Then everyone started pressing closer; everyone's phones or cameras came out, because everything else was forgotten, flags, shoulders, everything, forgotten in the stretch and the push and the pull and the ... Popemobile! Yes, there, passing, white cassock on the wind, Pope Francis waving, larger than life, big, beaming smile, looking well-rested for the first time in forever.

And then he's passed, and going up the street. People were running along behind, trailing him on the inside of the crowd control fences, trying for another look, another photo.

Then he turned the corner and was gone.

But I got my photo.

10 a.m.
Again, I'm astounded by the sheer number of people gathering for the papal visit. It was visible on the Metro — at my stop, it seemed like half the car got up and exited.

As I wandered through the heart of federal Washington, D.C., finding my way to the papal parade route, I ended up walking with a group of pilgrims. Once inside security, there the whole panoply of the U.S. and of humanity, it seemed, waited.

Now take a moment to savor this. The papal parade route offered no special access to the Holy Father, no front-row seat to the meeting with the President, no special prize for having been present. And yet that place was packed.

Some people had waited in line all night till the gates opened at 4 a.m. in order to get the best possible spots. Some had flown in from other parts of the country, just for a brief glimpse of the Holy Father.

Rows of people lined the fences all around the parade route, old and young, large and small, all ethnicities you could imagine. I had brief interviews with several families where the parent smiled a little uncertainly at me over the language barrier while their children spoke to me in fluent English. I interviewed one family that was there by force of Mom; neither child, it seemed, was particularly fond of church-going, and yet both expressed how important it was for them to be there, how this Pope had offered hope to so many people, how they might never get a chance like this again.

That was a constant refrain: hope. Hope in people's hearts for a change, hope for peace in the world, hope for true teaching on the family to turn back the tide of the breakdown of families everywhere. Everyone, it seemed, had a hope for this pope, for the papal visit, for the pontificate.

And not all the ones hoping were Catholic, either. I interviewed at least one self-professed Buddhist who, it happened, had been in Rome when Pope Francis was elected and had joined the crowds in St. Peter's Square, waiting to see the white smoke, waiting to catch a glimpse of the man who would be pope.

He means something, it seems, to all the world, partly because of his office and partly because of Francis himself. The Holy Father was, is, and will be a world leader because the keys of the kingdom have truly been entrusted to Peter and his successors; because there is a real spiritual power and influence present in the Petrine office. Whether or not anyone believes it to be true, still that power will be a fact till the end of the world. And so when the Holy Father comes to meet the people, the people come to meet him.

And this Holy Father in particular loves to be amongst the people. In Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio was known and loved by the people of the slums. He'd often visit, spend time with them, take pictures with their families, perform the Sacraments for them ... in other words, be their pastor, their father, their friend. He loved them, and they loved him in return. He brings that style of pastoral ministry to his papal vocation.

If I heard correctly from the news broadcast on the great screens set up across from where I'm standing, the White House ceremony was late because the Holy Father was pausing to greet people on the street on the way over. He rode in a black Fiat, a small and simple car for a world leader on his way to the White House.

Groups of people joined in singing when the Star Spangled Banner was played, but nobody, no matter how devout a Catholic they are, evinced any familiarity with the anthem of the Holy See.

8 a.m.
Catholic University of America (CUA) was locked down this morning early. I ended up in a cul-de-sac of fencing, trucks, and confusion. Reports of the size of the security operation have not been exaggerated. When I finally found my way around the CUA campus, wandering behind two gentlemen in conversation about the theological issues that one man's wife was having with Catholicism as a Syrian Orthodox Christian, I finally encountered the CUA Metro stop — only to see that a large crowd of people were already in line for admission to the grounds for the Mass.

Folks, that Mass of Canonization starts at 4 p.m.

Visit here for all papal visit coverage.

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Milbeth J. Rodriguez - Sep 23, 2015

Kailan po ulet babalik sa ating bansa ang mahal na Santo Papa na si Pope Francis???