Pope Francis kisses and blesses Michael Keating, 10, of Elverson, Pennsylvania after arriving in Philadelphia and exiting his car when he saw the boy on Sept. 26 at Philadelphia International Airport. Keating has cerebral palsy and is the son of Chuck Keating, director of the Bishop Shanahan High School band that performed at Pope Francis' airport arrival.
JOSEPH GIDJUNIS/WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES
Reflections on Pope Francis' historic visit to the United States
Michael C. Barber, SJ
Many of us are still basking in the light and warmth of Pope Francis' visit. I was fortunate be able to go to Washington, DC, and Philadelphia to represent our diocese. Here are some of my impressions:
• Traveling by subway around DC wearing my Roman collar, everybody talked to me. Many people told me, "I'm not Catholic, but I like your Pope." The visit really showed the universal appeal of Pope Francis. The young man on the seat next to me told me he worked in the White House, but had to put his name in a lottery for a place to see the Holy Father's welcome ceremony. He won a ticket, and couldn't wait to be there.
• After being individually screened by the Secret Service, about 300 of us bishops traveled in a police motorcade across Washington to get to the cathedral ceremony and outdoor Mass. Even though traffic was stopped and people were inconvenienced, everybody waved and took photos of our buses. There was such excitement in the air.
• What moved me so much: At the Mass for the canonization of Father Serra, one of the lectors had Down syndrome. Imagine the pressure: This young woman got up in front of the Pope, the 25,000 people in attendance, and millions more watching on TV from around the world. Her reading was clear and confident. I was so happy for her, and so glad she was chosen.
• I was glad that our diocese was represented in the Canonization Liturgy: Andy Galvan from St. Joseph's/Mission San Jose in Fremont was chosen to carry the relic of St. Serra in the procession. Father Ron Schmitt from St. Anne's in Byron designed the spectacular reliquary.
• I was amazed at the reception given the Holy Father by members of Congress. The pope's talk was superb — I thought it the best of his visit.
• In Philadelphia, everyone I met on the street and in elevators asked if I had an extra ticket to the Pope's Mass. Everyone wanted to be there. The Philadelphia Inquirer had the best story: Two nuns stopped in a coffee shop to eat before going on to the Papal Mass. The nuns asked their young waitress if she was going to the Mass too? She said she really wanted to, but couldn't get a ticket. After they finished eating, the nuns left her a Mass ticket as their tip. She was so excited "The happiest day of my life!"
• At the "Festival of Families," a kind of musical variety show interspersed with biblical readings and testimonies, Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli both performed — but my favorite was the deaf "Sign Language Choir" that sang for the pope. The actor Mark Wahlberg (star of "Lone Survivor") was the emcee. He told the crowd he goes to Mass every day, and that "I attribute all my success to my Catholic faith."
• In the weeks and months ahead, we'll be able to read, pray and reflect on the Holy Father's many speeches and homilies. But I'll never forget one of the pope's most tender gestures: After arriving at the Philadelphia airport, he asked the driver to stop his Fiat. The Holy Father had spotted a boy holding rosary beads in a wheelchair with his family. The pope got out and bent down and embraced 10-year-old Michael Keating of Elverson, Pennsylvania, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Michael's mother wept and thanked the pope for blessing her son.
In the Acts of the Apostles, people tried to touch St. Peter as he preached and walked the streets of Jerusalem. They placed the sick along his path, hoping that his shadow would fall on them as he passed by. And all who were touched by his shadow were healed. In the past week, St. Peter's shadow fell on the United States of America. And many hearts were touched . . . and healed.
Please remember in your prayers the soul of Jesús Rojas, the young man I wrote about in this column on May 18. I confirmed Jesús in May. He was suffering from leukemia. He passed to the Lord on Sunday, Sept. 27. His friends and family celebrated his 18th birthday and graduation from Salesian High School in his hospital room on Friday. Here was a true disciple, who followed Our Lord — all the way to the Cross. May he rest in peace. And may he enjoy the glory of the resurrection, "where every tear will be wiped away." Our prayers and thoughts are with the Rojas family. Thank you for giving the world such a wonderful son and Christian.
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