This week can best be summarized as a papal whirlwind. Between all the members of the Casa San Salvador community, there were people present for almost all of the Pope’s events during his visit to Washington, DC.
On Tuesday, the missioners-in-training, one of our DC Service Corps members, and one of our office associates packed some snacks and headed out to see Pope Francis’ welcome parade at the White House. Though the parade didn’t actually start until around 11am Wednesday morning, the group left at 11pm on Tuesday night to secure a prime spot and build community with the other people who had shown up for the same reason.
“Most people thought it was crazy to wait for 12 hours to see the Pope drive past for 10 seconds,” said missioner-in-training Catherine Sullivan. “But the 12 hours leading up to it was also part of seeing the Pope. Christ was present in all of the people around us as as we waited. We could see the Pope’s presence and influence in the crowd.”
As the night went on, spirits stayed high and though physical energy dwindled, the group’s enthusiasm didn’t.
“One of my favorite moments was when a group of people started singing Spanish songs. We were clapping and trying to sing along, but we couldn’t really because it was in Spanish. So then they turned to us and said ‘Now you sing some songs!’ So then we sang some Christian songs in English to them and they clapped with us and danced. It was just a really fun atmosphere at 3:00 in the morning,” said missioner-in-training Erin McHugh.
Wednesday afternoon, communications associate Maria Beben joined the group of 25000 people with tickets to the Canonization Mass of Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Despite the heat of the day and the lengthy security procedures, the overall atmosphere was one of peaceful excitement.
The Mass, like the other papal events, was a beautiful testament to the universality of the Church. Many nationalities were represented through the various languages used in the readings as well as in the diversity of the music during Mass. During his homily, Pope Francis warned against the dangers of apathy and called for a renewed vigor to go forth and proclaim God’s message.
On Thursday morning, the missioners-in-training, office associates, and DC Service Corps members had gotten tickets to the West Lawn of the Capitol to hear Pope Francis’ address to Congress. As the group stood between the Capitol and the Washington Monument and watched the sunrise, huddled together with friends and strangers alike, it was one of those moments when the reality of living in DC really sank in.
Pope Francis’ address to Congress was one of few speeches he delivered in English during his time in Washington, DC. The image of him standing before all the members of Congress was almost surreal. His fervent message stressed the power of United States officials and the duty they hold to promote the basic and undeniable dignity of human rights. In the face of the world’s problems, he said, “To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place…Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
The Pope’s words do not seek to single people out, but to unite them. The invitation to live out a life of love is for the whole world. “His words are so simple yet so profound,” said missioner-in-training Janice Smullen. “Change comes within our hearts, and he touches hearts.”
“It’s so hopeful, that there are that many people who are interested in and passionate about these global issues. We can change this, I’m sure we can make a difference…through the Pope’s words, you could see the Church as the body that it is. It shows what we could accomplish if we actively lived out our faith,” said missioner-in-training Allison Dethelfs.
“Everything he said was intentional, both in its content and in the way he presented it,” reflected development associate Sarah Sokora.
“He didn’t go in to tear people down…he went in to build them up and encourage more concern for the vulnerable,” said missioner-in-training Aubrey Kimble. “And he lives out what he believes.”
As a few of the missioners-in-training reflected on the Pope’s visit they said, “Well, now we can cross witnessing history off of our bucket lists.”
Though the crowds left as quickly as they came, the fences have been cleared from the sidewalks, and a full night of sleep is now an option, the mark that Pope Francis left on Washington, DC, and in the hearts of everyone who saw and heard him, whether remotely or in person, is permanent.