Walking with Francis, the Journey Continues

A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sept. 23.

A reliquary containing relics of St. Junipero Serra is seen as Pope Francis celebrates his canonization and Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington September 23.

As he has throughout his ministry, Pope Francis voiced a message of accompaniment during his trip to the nation’s capital, expressing the desire that everyone walk together in the presence of the Lord. Hearing his call, the Church of Washington and many others in our community joined in solidarity to participate in the “Walk with Francis” initiative. So overwhelming was the response that the day the Holy Father arrived, the number of people who had committed to special acts of prayer, service and works on behalf of those in need reached 100,000.

Pope Francis himself demonstrated every aspect of this initiative during his visit. He prayed with the nation’s Catholic bishops at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, and with 25,000 people gathered for the Canonization Mass of Saint Junípero Serra outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He demonstrated the importance of service by meeting with the clients, volunteers and staff of Catholic Charities. He advocated on behalf of those in need during his remarks at the White House and in his address to the joint meeting of Congress.

In his homily at the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis encouraged people to make the joy of the Gospel increase in their lives: “Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”

The Holy Father pointed to the example of Father Junípero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary whom he canonized that afternoon in the first sainthood liturgy ever held on U.S. soil. “Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life,” he said, praising the new saint as a trailblazer who nurtured “God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters” and defended the dignity of the native people whom he served.

Then the Holy Father concluded his homily by describing how Saint Junípero is a role model for today’s Catholics, who like that great missionary are called to go out and bring Christ’s love to people. “Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all, a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward!” Pope Francis said. “He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept moving forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”

Stirred to prayer and action by the Holy Father’s example, we know our “Walk with Francis” must continue. By committing to follow his example of prayer and service, we can become a living legacy to the Pope and his visit to Washington.

As we walk with him on our pilgrim journey, our Holy Father assured us during his meeting with the bishops that he walks with us too. “Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God – know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.”

On the Archdiocese of Washington’s special website at walkwithfrancis.org, people are continuing to take the pledge. You will also find there links for related parish resources, school lesson plans and opportunities to share the faith. Meanwhile, more than 532,000 messages have been shared so far on social media through #WalkwithFrancis, including recent tweets about first and second grade girls from Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac singing for the elderly residents next-door at Byron House. A tweet for young adults from @DCCatholic, noted, “We follow Jesus when we #WalkwithFrancis.”

Pope Francis came to the United States as a missionary of the Good News of Jesus, and encouraged us to follow the example of Saint Junípero Serra, as missionaries who go forth in our daily lives and bring Christ to our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our communities and our world. In that way, our walk with Francis and the whole Church continues.