Celebrating the First Anniversary of the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis

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The visit of Pope Francis one year ago, September 22-24, was electrifying, jubilant and a moment of grace for our local Church, the greater metropolitan community and our nation.

Excitement for the Vicar of Christ among us was evident everywhere he went.  It began when his plane landed and he was greeted with cheers and song from more than five hundred schoolchildren and young adults from around the archdiocese. This scene played out repeatedly while he was here.

The local theme of the papal visit was “Share the Joy, Walk with Francis,” and both were on display as people rejoiced and wanted to be near him.  This special attention that Pope Francis received and the extraordinary media coverage that followed him were a recognition of his unique role.  Whether it was the reception he received when he arrived, at the White House or Congress, or the vast multitudes praying with him and for him, it is evident that people are hungering for the Gospel message of love that the Pope shared with us.

Each time the Holy Father came and went from the Apostolic Nunciature where he was staying, he was met by cheering schoolchildren – who were even more elated when he invariably walked over to greet them in a personal way.  This enthusiasm was met or perhaps even surpassed by the thousands of glowing young seminarians and religious novices and postulants from around the country who greeted the Successor of Peter at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception or during his special stop at our archdiocesan Saint John Paul II Seminary.

In fact, the joy began and was building for many months before.  By the time our guest arrived, more than 100,000 people had joined in the “Walk with Francis” initiative, offering him the gift of special acts of prayer, service and works on behalf of those in need.  Added to this were more than 531,000 messages on social media sharing our faith in Jesus Christ.

This elation and affection continued with special sunrise Masses downtown, followed by a gathering of people at the Mall, where Pope Francis came by to greet them in the Popemobile after his visit to the White House.  When our Holy Father rode instead in the papal Fiat – which was later donated to the archdiocese and may be seen at various #DriveWithFrancis functions – he insisted on having the window down, as if to say by example that if you are going to reach people, remove the barriers so you can see and hear and touch them.

Following this encounter, Pope Francis met with this country’s bishops as a brother among brothers.  Praising God and praying the liturgy of the hours with us, our Chief Shepherd noted the discord in the world and reminded us how essential it is that the Church work for unity and “be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love . . . and not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morning.”

At the center of the visit was our celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the steps of the Basilica, where Pope Francis could see the universality of the Church and the multicultural diversity of our nation in the people assembled there.  This beautiful liturgy included the historic canonization of Saint Junípero Serra, which continues to summon us to be missionaries disciples as he was, with the Holy Father urging us to “keep moving forward” to encounter others and share with them the merciful love of Christ.

Throughout the visit, you could really sense the Holy Spirit alive in our family of faith.  People were inspired by the message of this holy pastor that this would be a better place if we simply came together and saw in others a brother or sister, and it prompted many to ask a very good question afterward – “Why can’t it always be the way it was when the Pope was here?”

Demonstrating the depth of his pastoral concern, Pope Francis met with those who walk the halls of power and with those who live in the streets.  He reminded our nation’s leaders, “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. . . . You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”  Right after, this pastor of souls went out to touch the homeless and hungry and sustain them in hope saying, “In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness.”  He then assured our sisters and brothers in need, “God is present in every one of you.”

This visit of Pope Francis as the successor to Peter and the Vicar of Christ was a reminder to each of us with our own personal gifts, talents and abilities, to do what we can to manifest Christ’s kingdom with works of love and truth, justice and peace.  Renewed by our recollection of the Holy Father’s presence with us, now it is time for us to shine more brightly and bring to others the joy of being loved.

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