A Novice’s Adventure to See Pope Francis
September 30, 2015
By Sister Patricia Anne, Sister of Mercy novice
During Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, seven Sisters of Mercy novices were invited to attend the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, held on September 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
When I heard the news that I was to be in attendance for the pope’s visit to Washington, D.C., I was elated. I had just been received into the Mercy community as a novice when I received the phone call from my incorporation minister, Sister Jill Weber. What great news this was to share with my local community.
Spring forward now to the day of departure for Washington D.C. We gathered and headed for the airport; everyone was abuzz and excited to catch even the smallest glimpse of Pope Francis the next day. Once we arrive in Washington we are greeted warmly by the sisters in the local area and housed for the evening. With their warm hospitality everyone settled in for the evening. I have to admit I managed to be awake later than usual due to the upcoming excitement that the next day was to bring! I knew that the day was to be long, but for me this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. After all, how often do you get to stand in the presence of the current pontiff?
As we met the bus that took us to our destination I began to get nervous. We stood in security lines to be checked for any contraband before we could enter the Basilica of the National Shrine. As we entered the sectioned-off gates, it was like entering Walt Disney World for the first time as a kid. I had that excited, nervous feeling in the pit of my innermost being. Once inside the basilica we promptly took our seats. We were early, and it was going to be a long wait, but we knew it was well worth the wait.
But, wait, there was more! The hours ticked by till Pope Francis arrived at the Basilica, and we learned that he would walk down the center aisle, to which several of us novices have “front row” seating! You could feel the energy inside the basilica rise, and that is when I decided to soak up every microsecond of his presence. As the doors opened and Pope Francis stepped into the center aisle of the basilica the attendees erupted into cheers and greetings. I was not at a bird’s eye view to catch great photo opportunities, but I was at a great vantage point to see Pope Francis smile that bright smile and wave to all of us and look into his eyes as he moved down the aisle of the basilica.
It was then that I was able to finally feel a sense of great awe. We talk so much about standing on the shoulders of greatness with the sisters who have gone before us, but this was the best time for me to actually feel that I “get it.” I am living in a time where I have access to a pastor who is human, who is holy, who has struggled, but who also kept moving forward. As I reflect on this moment in time I am also struck by the ability of Catherine McAuley—founder of the Sisters of Mercy—to be human and holy; to have dealt with struggle and to have kept moving forward. I thought as I was standing in the pew that Catherine McAuley was there with us. We were indeed being passed the torch to carry forward the Gospel of Jesus to those in the margins. We, too, were putting one foot in front of another and moving forward, just like Pope Francis stated in his homily that day.
Pope Francis for me is not a “rock star” as some might portray him to be; he is the lead shepherd of our Universal Church and to have the privilege and grace to be able to be in attendance at the basilica was pure gift for me personally.