Nationals Park will always bring back special memories of Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass there in 2008, shortly after it opened. The cheering crowd of 50,000 people in their diversity offered the Holy Father a view of the face of the Church in America, and he stretched out his arms as if to embrace them and our country.
Last month, I had the joy of returning to Nationals Park for Faith Day and as I walked along the concourse, I was reminded of another papal visit to Washington – the time of grace we enjoyed when Pope Francis came here one year ago. Just inside the centerfield entrance of the ballpark, the Papal Fiat was parked and nearby was a table for Catholic Charities’ Cup of Joe program, reflecting the pope’s call for us to care for one another, especially the poor and marginalized. Baseball fans were lined up to fill breakfast bags so that some of the homeless people in our community might have something to eat.
More than 550 meals were packed and then placed in the “Pope Car.” After the game, the Fiat was driven across town to deliver those breakfast bags to Catholic Charities’ Adam’s Place shelter. It was a true home run hit not by Nationals’ players, but by their fans to reach out to their brothers and sisters in need.
When Pope Francis himself rode in the Fiat, he asked to roll down the window, so he could be closer to the people here. Now that little black car has become a ubiquitous symbol of the enduring impact of the papal visit to Washington, and it even has its own social media hashtag, #DriveWithFrancis. The day before its Nationals Park appearance, the Papal Fiat was parked by Our Lady Star of the Sea Church to highlight the work of Southern Maryland Community Resources, a program that serves people with developmental differences and was having a benefit boat race that weekend. In addition to being filled with food for the homeless, the Fiat has also been packed with donated baby items that it delivered to a crisis pregnancy center in Washington.
This iconic Pope Car and the more familiar Popemobile took the Holy Father to many places to see many people, from meeting with the President and the Congress to praying with our nation’s bishops and touching our sisters and brothers in need to celebrating the Canonization Mass for Saint Junípero Serra. Each of these was important in its own way, but really the most important aspect of the Pope’s visit was not any of these, but the time afterward, the legacy he leaves behind.
The enduring takeaway from the Pope’s visit, what all of us will carry with us, is the recognition that there is so much more yet to be done. Pope Francis’s mantra of “Go out, encounter, accompany,” should become our own call to action. The Walk with Francis effort, in which more than 100,000 people joined before he arrived, was a call for us to renew our personal faith in Jesus, be confident in its truth, and then go out as Christ’s disciples in our community and our world and share his Good News in word and deed. At the Canonization, the Pope said that new saint’s motto should be ours: “Keep moving forward!”
Like the Papal Fiat, we ourselves can be an inspiring reminder of Pope Francis’ visit with us, renewing and sharing our faith, and inviting others to experience it, especially in our service to others.