Everything was Grace. From the first moment we stepped inside the Immaculate Conception Basilica of Washington D.C., to meeting priests, bishops, cardinals, seminarians and religious from all over the country, to finally seeing His Holiness Pope Francis, and attending the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, everything was a grace-filled moment from God.
Sept. 23, 2015: We started the day by praying and thanking our Lord for bringing us here and allowing us to experience the Pope’s first visit to the United States. The night before, we stayed at the Theological College right across the Basilica, the venue of the canonization Mass, so we had a good panoramic view of everything that was happening, from the rehearsals to the preparations.
At 12:30pm, security officials escorted us from the college to the basilica. We were ecstatic when we got seats at the front area, by the center aisle. We were told that Pope Francis will be passing by our side, and we couldn’t wait. We had a couple of hours before the start of the Mass and so we went around and enjoyed the grandeur of the Immaculate Conception Basilica. This church was definitely amazing! At the crypt were almost a hundred images of our Blessed Mother from all over the world: Europe, Latin America, USA, Africa, and Asia! We were just in awe.
We also made friends with a lot of priests, seminarians, and religious from all over the country. Some of them drove from nearby states, and some, just like us, flew from far-away cities just to be one with His Holiness.
At 4:00pm, everyone was silent. Then, the two main doors opened, and the Vatican entourage entered. Everyone stood immediately and erupted in cheers. At the end of the entourage, finally, Pope Francis walked in, waving at the people. The whole venue let out a rousing applause, shouting “Viva il Papa!” repeatedly. So there we were, seeing him parade from the vestibule, walking closer and closer to us. Finally, he was right in front of us, smiling, waving, and then smiling some more. I couldn’t describe how I was feeling at that very moment. I was in a daze. Everything was surreal! The Pope was right in front of us; I could almost touch his face!
He continued walking up to the altar of the basilica, then stopped in front and prayed for us. Then he gave us his blessing, and then prayed some more, and then processed out to start the canonization Mass for Junipero Serra, the great missionary priest of California. As the Mass started, everyone was praying reverently, and singing with the choir joyfully. In a brief moment of silence during the Mass, I closed my eyes, and uttered a fervent prayer of thanks. First, a huge thank you to Mount Angel Seminary for bringing us here. We felt very humbled to represent our beloved institution in this historic and momentous occasion, and of course, deep gratitude to our Lord, for allowing us to celebrate with his people, his community of faithful, his Holy Mother Church.
What really touched me about seeing the Pope up-close is the fact that I saw for myself how humble His Holiness really is. The whole time he was walking that long aisle of the Basilica, he was waving without pomp, and courteously nodding his head to the people, as if saying, “I’m not worthy.” I was looking at him, I thought, here is someone who truly believes from his heart that, more than anything else, he is a servant of God. And that this is all just a grace from the Almighty, and not due to his own greatness or power.
Everything was grace. Truly, the fire of the Holy Spirit was with everyone during the event and throughout the day! When we come back to Oregon on Friday, we hope to be able to spread out the grace we have received to the entire hilltop community, and wherever else we may go. Like the Papal visit’s theme, indeed, our call as Christians is to share the joy of the Gospel, because “love is our message!”
Deacon Zani Pacanza
Archdiocese of Portland