People from all over the Diocese of Rochester — from the current and emeritus bishop, to priests and diocesan employees, and to men, women and children from diocesan parishes — had the chance to take part in various aspects of Pope Francis’ first trip to the United States Sept. 22-27. Here are some of their reflections on experiences in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia.
The Diocese of Rochester’s Bishop Salvatore R. Matano was able to participate in several of the papal events, including two Masses, as a number of pilgrims from the diocese traveled to the three cities to catch of glimpse of Pope Francis. Millions more, meanwhile, tuned into televised broadcasts of papal Masses and other events.
“It was a very uplifting and joyful moment for all the faithful in the United States, as well as an uplifting and positive moment for even non-Catholics or nonbelievers to see the chief shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church so concerned about the many issues that face us today,” Bishop Matano told the Catholic Courier on Sept. 28.
Bishop Matano traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 23 to be present for Pope Francis’ mid-day prayer service and address to U.S. bishops, followed that afternoon by the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra. The next day, Bishop Matano was in New York City for vespers, or evening prayer, with Pope Francis at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On Sept. 25, Bishop Matano was present for the pope’s interreligious encounter at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum as well as an evening Mass at Madison Square Garden. The throngs at all of these events welcomed Pope Francis “with an abundance of love and heartfelt gratitude that he would come to visit with us in the United States,” Bishop Matano said.
The service at Ground Zero was particularly moving, noted Bishop Matano, who arrived at the museum early in order to view its photographs of David and Lynn Angell, who were on the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The couple were the brother and sister-in-law, respectively, of Bishop Kenneth Angell, who was Bishop Matano’s predecessor as bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., and a fellow priest of the Diocese of Providence, R.I. Gazing upon the photographs of the Angells helped him understand the depth of the feelings of loss experienced by those mourning loved ones, Bishop Matano said.
“I saw how it so deeply affected Bishop Angell and his family,” Bishop Matano said. “It helped me to understand the depth of the feelings of loss on the part of those who mourn the victims of Sept. 11.”
Bishop Matano said he was impressed by the solemn nature of the ceremony at the memorial and by the contemplative moments of silence, which conveyed a deep reverence for the moment and a recognition of the sanctity of the lives that had been lost.
“It was a profound reflection on who we are as God’s children, and that we are called to love each other,” he said.
During his visit Pope Francis expressed a deep appreciation for the family, which he referred to as the domestic church, and for the religious sisters in the United States, Bishop Matano noted. These women religious played an integral part in the foundation of many Catholic schools, hospitals and other institutions, and when their numbers began to wane, laypeople stepped forward to take up much of that work, he said.
“We now witness this very powerful bridge between the religious and the laity, and the Holy Father recognizes that and expressed his deep gratitude for that,” Bishop Matano said. “Here in Rochester, the dedication of the laity is so prevalent in all of our parishes. … The gratitude that our Holy Father is expressing for the work of the laity I’m sure touched the hearts of many, many people in the parishes, schools and institutions in the diocese.”
Although reporters identified the welcome Pope Francis received as a superstar’s welcome wherever he went, it’s important for Catholics to remember that the pontiff is the successor of the apostle Peter and traveled to America to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith, the bishop added. When asked about being a superstar, Pope Francis described himself rather as “the servant of servants of God.”
“I think it would be the hope of our Holy Father that the wonderful numbers of people who greeted him would keep his memory alive in their hearts by their actions, particularly by their devotion to our Lord in the most holy Eucharist, for it is in the Eucharist that we find our strength to perform all of the charitable works for the poor,” Bishop Matano said.
Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark saw quite a bit of Pope Francis during his visit to the United States — in Washington, as a concelebrant at the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra and an audience member for the pontiff’s address to a joint session of Congress; and in New York City, as a concelebrant for the pontiff’s Mass at Madison Square Garden.
“I was a pope groupie for a few days,” quipped Bishop Clark, who served as Bishop of Rochester from 1979 until his 2012 retirement.
Of those three events, Bishop Clark said he was most deeply struck by the pope’s appearance before Congress “because of its uniqueness. A Holy Father has never addressed Congress in that fashion,” he noted.
Bishop Clark attended that historical event at the invitation of U.S Rep. Louis Slaughter, D-25th District. He said that he was impressed how two renowned Catholics — Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton — were mentioned in Pope Francis’ speech alongside Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King as four American individuals with four dreams.
Commenting on the common touch that seemed to flow so easily from Pope Francis during his time in this country, Bishop Clark said, “In my mind, what he did was totally consistent with everything he’s done since he was elected pope. He seems to have found a chord in people’s hearts that he strikes in very beautiful ways. To me it’s part of a continuum.”
Bishop Clark added that while people who follow Pope Francis closely were likely not surprised he was so well received, the pontiff likely won a great deal of new supporters while in the United States. Regarding the lasting effects of his trip here, Bishop Clark said, “I think if all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit — and I believe it is — then this will bear good fruit.”
Deacon John Brasley, diocesan director of deacon personnel, and his wife, Belinda, youth minister at Spencerport’s St. John the Evangelist Parish, led a delegation of pilgrims from the Diocese of Rochester who attended the World Meeting of Families. Their busy week began with a noontime bus arrival in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Deacon Brasley gave high marks to the conference’s many keynote speakers during the week.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the powerful presentations,” he said. “Each talk has affirmed the important role families play in the church and society, and gave us practical ways to support and encourage families in our parishes. We look forward to taking what we learned this week and putting it to good use in our parish and diocesan ministries.”
As the week went on, he said, the buildup to Pope Francis’ Saturday arrival in Philadelphia was highly evident.
“Signs of increased security are everywhere, with barriers and barricades along city streets and a very visible presence of FBI, Border Patrol and TSA agents, National Park Rangers and the local police officers,” Deacon Brasley reported on Friday, Sept. 25.
That preparation set the stage for a memorable weekend for the Brasleys, beginning with close-up sightings of the pontiff in his popemobile during his parade along Benjamin Franklin Parkway to begin Saturday’s Festival of Families. The day continued with a celebration hosted by actor Mark Wahlberg and appearances by such noted performers as Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli.
“We experienced one exciting thrill after another,” Deacon Brasley commented.
Then it was back to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday morning so the Brasleys could claim a space for the Papal Mass that was to begin at 4 p.m. Pope Francis once again made his way along the Saturday parade route, giving the Brasleys another opportunity to see him in very close proximity.
“What a blessing it was to stand just a few yards from the pope as the motorcade drove by us,” Deacon Brasley said, adding that the pope’s Sunday homily on the importance of family was “amazing” and that he felt honored to receive holy Communion consecrated by the pope.
A group of youths from Rochester’s St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish waited in one spot on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for about 15 hours to see Pope Francis. They had walked to the spot first thing in the morning on Sept. 26 directly behind a barricade along the route after traveling all night with little sleep, said Jos√© Ralat, one of the chaperones.
But being so close to the pope as he processed by them was worth the wait, the young parishioners said.
“It was a blessing,” said Grace Berrios, 17. “God gave us the opportunity. And it was very exciting to see him there.”
Justin Rodr√≠guez, 11, said the experience was awesome and he found it hard to describe his feelings of seeing Pope Francis only a few feet away from where he stood.
“Nothing in the world can replace that feeling when you see him,” Justin said.
The pope even looked directly at them, they said, and even blessed them with the sign of the cross, Ralat said.
“I’ll feel blessed every day,” Justin added. “I feel inspired that I can do anything. I can make the world a better place.”
A small group of women representing Monroe, Livingston and Yates counties drove down to the nation’s capital to be part of an interfaith service on the U.S. Capitol grounds and hear Pope Francis address Congress on Sept. 24. They had received tickets for the address from Rep. Louise Slaughter who had provided them for the Sisters of St. Joseph, explained Ruth Putnam Marchetti, Catholic Family Center’s parish social ministry coordinator. One of the women on the trip is an SSJ associate, she said.
The group arrived Sept. 23 in the morning and attended a prayer service at a Unitarian Universalist Church and then marched three miles with about 100 people to a park where they witnessed the end of the Yom Kippur service that had been celebrated there, added Sue Starapoli, an educator and consultant who holds a master’s in pastoral theology from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. The women then spent the night at an overnight prayer vigil, Marchetti said.
The next morning, they made it over to the Capitol grounds and saw Pope Francis greet the outdoor crowds from a balcony, she added.
“It was really beautiful, and it felt like being at the Vatican,” Marchetti remarked. “He blessed everyone with prayers and good wishes. It was just a really moving moment.”
And she loved his message to Congress, she said, because he affirmed and didn’t scold, she said.
“He doesn’t put himself over other people,” Marchetti said. “He calls us through real honesty and truth and a recognition of way the world really is and what we need to do together to make it more just world. … Who can argue with ‘treat others how you want to be treated?'”
The women also took part in the Moral Action on Climate Change rally following the speech.
“I was so grateful to be there and part of the collective voices being raised with Pope Francis for justice, peace and sustainability,” Starapoli said. “I’m so grateful to be part of the huge movement that is growing throughout this country and the world. … Pope Francis, and so many others, is leading the way. The words of his encyclical really challenge us all but gives us vision and hope as we engage in action.”
Ivette and Alberto Rodr√≠guez of Webster were among the lucky recipients of tickets for two to see Pope Francis during his New York City stop. They attend Our Lady of the Americas Church in Rochester.
For Alberto, the trip felt like a pilgrimage, he said. They waited for hours to see him pass by in the popemobile in Central Park, an exercise in patience but also in solidarity as they stood with people of every race, age and physical ability, he added. Just to get into the park, the couple waited for three hours and then another three hours to see the pope pass by, added Ivette.
“Everyone was determined to see the pope and no one complained about being tired, or of the long wait ahead of them,” she said. “I made use of some of the time by praying and asking for personal intentions and for others. I also reflected on the significance and blessing of this amazing experience.”
And as the moment of his passing by them came, the huge crowds grew ever closer until all that could be seen were hands raised with smartphones and cameras ready to capture the moment, Rodr√≠guez added.
“You could hear the shouts of joy and they moved like a wave toward us as Pope Francis got closer,” Ivette added. “I was so overcome with emotion that I had goosebumps. The energy of the people was incredible.”
And as the pope passed them smiling, Alberto said he felt doubly blessed.
“I feel doubly blessed for having had this opportunity,” he said. “First, I was able to participate in the pope’s visit and enjoy that moment in person. Secondly, to participate in the visit, I had to disconnect myself from my daily routines of work and home. Doing so allowed me to truly listen to the pope’s homily and messages and internalize his message without distraction.”
Deacon Jorge Ram√≠rez, who was ordained a transitional deacon earlier this year, said he had looked for a way to be part of a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis during his visit to the United States. Deacon Ram√≠rez is studying at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. He also felt doubly blessed having had the opportunity to distribute Communion to the nation’s bishops during the Sept. 23 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as well as be at the front of the pope’s procession through the capital.
“I truly feel so happy and blessed to have been so close to the Vicar of Christ,” he said “I feel happy because his presence renews me and inspires me to keep working for God’s kingdom through my work as a deacon, and soon as a priest, in the Diocese of Rochester. God bless our Holy Father, his ministry and everything he is doing not only for our Catholic Church but for all the people of the world.”
Aaron Kelly, a parishioner of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, is a diocesan seminarian who attends the Basselin Scholars program at Catholic University of America’s Theological College in Washington, D.C. Kelly attended both the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra on Sept. 23 and Pope Francis’ appearance at the joint session of Congress the following morning.
Kelly said that “most, if not all” seminarians from the Rochester Diocese — from Catholic University as well as other seminaries — were present at the canonization. Meanwhile, Kelly got to attend the pope’s address to Congress, having received a ticket from his local representative, Tom Reed, R-23rd District.
Kelly told the Catholic Courier that he hadn’t anticipated how massive an affair the pope’s visit would be “until I woke up on Tuesday, Sept. 15, and saw the campus of Catholic University completely enclosed by fencing and the sidewalks lined with bike racks that would control the crowd that was set to come the following week.”
He acknowledged that his patience was tested during this time because “we often had to go way off the normal path because the stage was being set” for the canonization that was to take place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to Catholic University. Yet his frustration dissolved the day before the canonization Mass: “I was walking back from class and heard the orchestra rehearsing ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name,’ the recessional of the Mass, and then I realized what this all was for.”
He described the canonization liturgy itself as “very powerful. To be present for a Mass with the Holy Father is an incredible experience, but to be present for a canonization of a new saint is even more powerful. I realized that I was a part of something so much greater than myself, and was very moved.”
Kelly said the joint session of Congress was moving as well, remarking, “There was a great atmosphere and people were very receptive to the message of Pope Francis.” He added that among the many powerful statements the pontiff made, he was particularly struck by his opening line, “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this joint session of Congress in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.'” Those words, Kelly remarked, constituted “the line that won everyone’s heart.”
“Taking a 5 a.m. Metro and standing for five hours waiting was well worth it to be a part of this very historic event,” Kelly added.
Tony Amato, a parishioner of Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece, was another Theological College seminarian on hand for the canonization of St. Junipero Serra. He and numerous other seminarians crowded into the basilica and watched the liturgy on screens.
Prior to the Mass, those seminarians got a special thrill when the pope passed through the basilica to greet them. Amato said that due to the immense crowd, he ended up four rows from the back — “which actually worked to my advantage,” he noted. That put him close to the front entrance, and at about 4:15 p.m. the doors to that entrance opened and everyone stood in anticipation. A few minutes later, Pope Francis emerged not far from Amato “to a cheering crowd and the organ playing. It was exhilarating,” Amato recalled.
The pope then stood in the sanctuary to give all inside the basilica a blessing before he proceeded to the Blessed Sacrament chapel and then the sacristy to vest for the Mass outside.
“Overall, I was in the basilica for about six hours. Most of that was waiting for the pope to arrive. It was certainly worth it, of course,” Amato said.
He added that when the pope entered the basilica he kept thinking of the scene of Christ and Peter talking by the Sea of Galilee, as depicted in John 21, with Jesus commanding Peter to “feed my sheep.”
“And here he is, Francis, feeding his sheep,” Amato remarked.
Contains reporting by Mike Latona, Jennifer Burke and Annette Jim√©nez.