Yesterday was just like any other day. I woke up around 6:30, prayed morning prayer with the brothers, and went to Catholic University for many hours. Oh, and how could I forget? We ordered pizza for dinner because we didn’t get home until 8:30. Other than that, pretty normal.
Said no one in D.C.
Yesterday was one of the craziest, most chaotic, exciting, and uncomfortable days of my life. Yes, I got to see the pope. From less than 15 feet away, actually. But the day was much more than just that. It was an adventure.
Our day started at 10:00 when five of us left Holy Name College for downtown. I would like to point out that the mass did not start until 4:15… This selfie, taken by Michael Reyes, OFM and posted by Christian Seno, OFM, was picked up by CNN and NBC and allegedly aired on television. We’re famous!
Because the whole area was a mess, and because the DC Metro is not known for its reliability or success in keeping trains from catching on fire, we parked at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and walked the few blocks up to campus. Or that was our plan, at least. This picture was taken when we were just a block away and thought we were almost there.
This was our view on the other side of the bridge. Yikes! There were four entrances designated by color on one’s ticket. We needed to get to the purple gate, on the other side of this mess, but were obviously not allowed through this mess. So… we walked to the left and completely around. Total, we walked about 2.36 miles, not 100% sure if we were going the right way until we arrived.
When we arrived, we were disappointed to find two things: the line was equally as long and slow-moving as the other gate, and they were accepting all tickets at all gates, so we walked for 40 extra minutes for no reason. The line was unbearable slow, taking between one and two hours to make it through.
There was one perk to waiting in line, though. There amidst the crowds was Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines, patiently waiting with everyone else and graciously speaking and taking pictures with anyone who asked. There is a reason that he is so liked and why many believe his humility could land him a job in the Vatican after this Francis guy is done…
Eventually we made it in, along with 25,000 of our closest friends. It was a beautiful day, and the energy was just wonderful. I didn’t particularly like to see all of the venders around selling trinkets and merchandise–I’m not sure how Pope Francis would feel about being the literal face of consumerism–but it was incredible to so many excited people.
As seminarians and religious, our seats were inside, a bit of an irony on two levels: they were the most comfortable due to the air conditioning (something that Francis would probably not reserve for the shepherds!) and the farthest away from the actual mass, which was outside. Where we sat was off to the side, and so we couldn’t see him processes in…
…but we did get to see him process outside! Where we were sitting was only four rows from where Pope Francis walked by to celebrate mass; we were within 10-15 feet from him!
As far as the mass goes, it was pretty nice. I’m definitely not one for pomp and circumstance, and some of the ritual just seemed intentionally over-the-top, but there were definitely some amazing things I doubt we would have seen with the previous two popes, being from Europe. The mass was in Spanish, not Latin, and many of the songs represented Latin American culture. There were definitely high Latin aspects of the mass, songs set to the organ and chanted responses, but there were also powerful Latin-American songs that seemed to be more “of the people,” if I may. (This song, for instance, was written and performed by the music director of our Franciscan parish in Silver Spring, MD.) His homily was also quite good.
Overall, there was a lot to love about the day. We got to meet a few cardinals (saw Cardinal Seán again), had a close-up view of the pope, and we got to experience not only his first mass in the United States but the first ever canonization mass on American soil (and it was a Franciscan, fitting given that the first mass ever celebrated on US soil was by a Franciscan). And that was all great for sure. The highlight of it all for me, though, was definitely seeing the people all around. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. Yeah, I’ve been to professional sporting events. Yeah, I went to the “March for Life” last year. But this was something else.
At this point I can’t fully describe what it was like, and by no means do I want to elevate it beyond some of the truly transcendent and personal moments I’ve had in my life, as, let’s be honest, there are far more meaningful things to life than the pope visiting (at least I hope!)… but I will say, it was an inspiring and exciting day, brought to us by a man that continues to inspire our Church to be who we are meant to be as Christians. This pope gives me hope!