Throwback Thursday: A Look Back at the Visit of Pope Francis

The September 2015 visit of Pope Francis was an electrifying and jubilant time.  The excitement for our Holy Father was evident here in our city, as it is wherever this humble pastor goes.  Truly this was a moment of grace for our archdiocesan Church and the entire community, and as the host archbishop, it was my great privilege to be at the Pope’s side for much of the visit. 

Now I would like to share with you some of the images and words, sights and sounds that I witnessed during this blessed time.  Thanks to our highly talented archdiocesan social and digital media teams and newspaper staff who did such an exceptional job in covering the visit, you can follow the links below – or go directly to our #WalkWithFrancis, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Catholic Standard, El Pregonero, and WashArchdiocese YouTube pages – to view photo albums, messages, and video capturing the joy of our spiritual family.  In addition, I encourage you to read and reflect on our Holy Father’s words of faith, hope and love, which are posted here.

The afternoon of his arrival, among those present to greet Pope Francis when his plane landed were more than 500 hundred schoolchildren and young adults from around the archdiocese.  They cheered and sang for the Pope when he appeared. It was a delightful way to receive our special guest.  Similarly, each time the Holy Father came and went from the Apostolic Nunciature, where he was staying, I could not help but smile as he was met by cheering schoolchildren, who were even more elated when he would walk over to touch them in a personal way.

That sense of elation continued early the following day with special sunrise Masses celebrated downtown, followed by a pilgrimage of a multitude of people to the Mall area near the Washington Monument and Ellipse. There the faithful and other members of the community were thrilled when Pope Francis came by to greet them in the Popemobile after his visit to the White House, where President Barack Obama and the others assembled on the South Lawn also gave him a festive welcome to our nation. In fact, even when we drove by in that now-famous Fiat, people along the streets roared with affection.

Following this encounter, our Holy Father traveled a few blocks to the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle to meet with the bishops of the United States as a brother among brothers.  Here, the spiritual shepherds of the Church in our country, in communion with our Chief Shepherd, prayed the liturgy of the hours, praising God and asking his blessings on our work serving him.

Of course, the high point of the day was our celebration of the Holy Eucharist earlier this afternoon on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception adjoining the campus of The Catholic University of America.  Looking out upon this gathering, I rejoiced in seeing there the universality of the Church and the multicultural diversity of our nation.  While I know that more people wished to be there in person, those present were thankful in the knowledge that so many of you offered your spiritual presence in prayer.

With the uplifting music and prayers, you could really sense the Spirit alive in our family of faith.  At this beautiful liturgy, we were also privileged to witness and participate in the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra.  We cannot help but be inspired to be missionaries disciples.

Before the Mass, in addition to passing through the crowd in the Popemobile, our Holy Father met with several thousand seminarians and religious novices from around the United States to give them his apostolic blessing.  Then afterward, to conclude this busy but blessed first day, Pope Francis graciously stopped by the Little Sisters of the Poor at their Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly poor and then continued on to our archdiocesan Saint John Paul II Seminary, where our young men studying to be priests glowed with excitement to meet him.

The grace continued the next day, with the wide range of people that Pope Francis met – those with power and those on the margins – demonstrating the depth of his pastoral concern.  Our Holy Father first visited Congress in the morning.  Whether it was in the House chamber or after the speech as the Pope toured Statuary Hall, where the statues of Saint Junípero Serra and Saint Damien of Molokai are on display or in greeting the huge crowd gather on the Capitol Lawn, everyone simply beamed with joy at being in his presence.

From the Capitol, Pope Francis went to Saint Patrick’s Church and Catholic Charities to give faith, hope and love to some of our sisters and brothers in need.  This was most certainly the most touching of all his visits.  Everyone there manifested the joy of knowing they are loved.

Following this encounter, our Holy Father departed for New York, again with the cheers of the young ringing in our ears.  Like most visits by a beloved family member, we cannot help but think it was too brief, but I know I speak for so many others when I say how thankful I am for the time we did have.

Throughout this time of abundant grace, from the moment the Pope touched down until he took off again, everywhere I went, in the words of the local theme of the visit, I saw people “Share the Joy, Walk with Francis.” In a particular way, I rejoiced to see how vibrant our Church is.

While our Holy Father has departed, the excitement need not end.  Above all, renewed in the Spirit, we want to continue to share the joy of the Gospel with all we encounter.