A Papal Visit to any country comes with a long list of preparations and precautions to ensure that it goes off without a hitch. Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week was no exception. Many months and countless hours went into the planning of his three city tour by hundreds of people. As we look back on this historic visit, we know that it truly was overall a successful visit.
Emotions come with any Papal Visit, and again this past week was no exception. Everywhere that our Holy Father went, he was greeted with tremendous emotion from those he encountered. Whether it was the faithful at the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, members of Congress, the families at the 9/11 memorial, immigrant families at Independence Mall, the prisoners of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the World Meeting of Families attendees, schoolchildren at the airports, or dozens of Bishops, Priests, and consecrated men and women religious, everyone seemed to have a powerful experience. Even though I was present at the Canonization Mass, my emotions surfaced later as I watched the Holy Father’s address to Congress. Even from my own home, his words and message brought me to tears and gave me hope that those representing us politically would take his words to heart.
I think that perhaps these powerful emotions have much to do with the distance that the Pope usually has from us here in the United States. While Catholics (and many non-Catholics) look to the Holy Father for guidance, his physical distance from us makes it difficult for him to elicit palpable emotions. By bringing his message directly to us, both in word and deed, Pope Francis makes us stop and take in the moment--letting us find the joy within us. Oftentimes this manifests itself in tears--not tears of sadness but tears of joy. This joy stems from the knowledge that Christ’s vicar is here among us, showing us that no matter how important we may think he is—he is still one of us.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has indicated that the Holy Father’s visit should be more than a celebration; it should be an encounter. Over these last few days, encounters with the Holy Father have changed the lives of so many - not just those that he personally met. His message of love is one that resonated with the thousands of people that came to catch a glimpse of him. This message is one that we must continue to spread. We must take the emotion that was brought to the surface and continue to help the Holy Father spread his message of love for all people and our common home. We must bring this encounter to others.
In his homily at the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis asked us to move forward. In his homily at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, he reminded us that we must be missionary disciples:
"One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.”
Pope Francis is asking us to act, to show others that our mission in life is love for all. The emotions that we experienced while he was here should not fall away now that he is gone. Together let us take the emotion that we had while he was here and allow it to permeate our lives and impel us to live out the charge he has given us.
Next Tuesday at approximately 4:00 pm, Pope Francis will touch down at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland. This Apostolic Journey to the United States of America includes visits to three important American cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia.
I am excited to return next week to the campus of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, where Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Mass will make history, as it is the first canonization Mass to take place on U.S. soil and the first papal Mass to take place on a U.S. university campus.
As a seminarian, I will join thousands of my brother seminarians and those in religious formation in the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine for the Mass of Canonization. Although details are sparse, it is expected that Pope Francis will be greeted on the front steps of the National Shrine and then proceed down the center aisle before celebrating Mass on the steps of the National Shrine overlooking Catholic University.
The Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis has been described as an "encounter," not simply a trip. The secular media has focused on his address to Congress, the security concerns related to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and the associated merchandise. (I must admit that I'll be on the lookout for some fun Papal Visit trinkets as souvenirs!) I think there is something to be said, however, about this apostolic journey as an "encounter."
During an audience with seminarians and novices in July 2013, Pope Francis addressed them with these words, which are certainly applicable to us all:
I would like to tell you: come out of yourselves to proclaim the Gospel, but to do this you must come out of yourselves to encounter Jesus. There are two ways out: one towards the encounter with Jesus, towards transcendence; the other towards others in order to proclaim Jesus. These two go hand in hand. If you only take one of them, that is no good!
Encountering the Holy Father is a way to both deepen our faith and evangelize. This has been actualized in the "Walk with Francis" movement, which encourages people to join the Holy Father in prayer and service. The Holy Father has encouraged us to join in prayer not only for his Apostolic Journey to the United States, but also that his message of peace, mercy, discipleship, and love might touch the hearts of both believers and non-believers alike.
The theme of the Apostolic Journey, "Love is Our Mission," seems to indicate what it is that the Holy Father wishes to convey to us during his first visit to the United States. His words on love and mercy are poignant:
May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas... We ask the Risen Jesus, Lord of all ages, that the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received; that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God. We pray, too, that this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor, through the witness of Christians of various confessions and communities, together with believers of other religious traditions, and people of upright conscience and good will. Lord Jesus, we are merely your missionary disciples, your humble co-workers so that your Kingdom may come!
We look forward to welcoming you to the United States, Holy Father, and we join in walking with you in prayer and service that we might become witnesses to love and ministers of God's mercy. Pope Francis told the young people gathered at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that "evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did." By serving others and witnessing to the love of God, may we be inspired to encounter the Lord in our sisters and brothers. May this encounter with Pope Francis in the United States inspire us all to answer the Holy Father's call to evangelize.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the United States, please visit our Papal Visit Portal.