Pope Francis goes to Washington

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Before the sun rose on Washington Sept. 24, lines of people passed through security near the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. They gave cameras, cell phones, purses and backpacks to TSA agents who checked them before handing them back to people to repack.

The lawn was lit only by Jumbotrons placed to give maximum viewing to the anticipated crowds.

Families laid out blankets around the lawn, grabbing spots like Klondike Gold Rush stakeholders.

One of the early arrivals was the Anderson family, parishioners of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield. They staked out space near the fences enclosing the ticket-only area.

Daryl Anderson saw Pope John Paul II in Monterey, Calif., in 1987. He and his family got their early to see Pope Francis.

"Because he's the pope," was Daryl's answer as to why he arrived so early.

Another early arrival was Father Luis Guido from San Bernardino, Calif.

"We can see the impact he has on so many people, especially youths," he said.

There were people there who shared the pope's passion for immigrants - Dreamers Moms.

The group on the lawn had walked from the York Detention Center in Pennsylvania to Washington to see Pope Francis. They held signs pleading for justice, dignity and immigration reform.

Ada Bermejo said that the group wants to separate the issue from politics.

"I came here for a better life," said the Argentine native.

Benjamin Garcia is a third-year theology student at the Theological College in Washington. He's from Chile and hopes to be ordained in 2017.

"It's quite amazing," he said, surveying the crowd, "to see how many people woke up early to see him."

Garcia said that the pope's appeal is that he speaks passionately about charity.

"Charity opens our hearts. The more we give, the more we get," he said.

Chuck Viggiani, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge, brought his 6-week old son, Lucas, to see the Holy Father. Lucas spent most of the morning sleeping on his father's shoulder, but Chuck was undeterred.

"It's definitely a spiritual experience to see the Holy Father," he said.

Kirsti Garlock, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, said that the pope gives us a message of love and mercy for everyone. He makes people happy, she said.

A motorcade could be heard rumbling up the barricaded streets near the Capitol, and this caused a buzz to escalate through the crowd. Helicopters circled above. A cheer broke out as the Jumbotrons showed Pope Francis exiting his Fiat and meeting House Speaker John Boehner.

When the pope was announced to the joint meeting of Congress to cheers inside, whoops and screams came from the thousands standing on the West Lawn.

There was more applause on the lawn when the pope said he was grateful for the invitation to address the joint meeting in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

He told the packed chamber that he was addressing not only them, but the entire country.

The theme of dialogue was continued as the pontiff said he wanted to talk to American workers who strive to feed their families. He wanted to dialogue with the elderly and the young.

Family was mentioned many times in his speech.

"It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme," said the pope.

Every reference to family brought waving arms along with cheers and applause.

He mentioned four Americans, two well-known - Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. The other two were less familiar - Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

"Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God," said the pope.

He asked everyone to remember the "Golden Rule," from the Gospel of Matthew, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," he said.

Again, the assembled cheered.

He wove his hope for the abolition of the death penalty, immigration reform, economic prosperity and care of the environment into the "Golden Rule," and with the lives of Lincoln, King, Day and Merton.

When he finished his speech with "God bless America," the crowd, once again, erupted with "Viva papa Francisco."

When Pope Francis appeared on Speakers Balcony on the west front of the Capitol to bless the crowd, more cheers erupted.

"It was inspiring and so true to him, said Beth Lu, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Herndon. "We need to care for one another."

Silvia Marquina-Leon, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge said, "He had a clear, direct message to convey to (compel us) to take action."

As people walked to grab cabs, buses or find somewhere to eat, most walked quietly, some crying, and some talking about the experience they just had with "the pope of the people."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015