The joy of following Christ

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Security gates opened at 4 a.m. for the expected thousands of people to stake out their spot along the parade route for Pope Francis' historic visit to Washington Sept. 23. Though the parade route was short - just a few blocks between the Ellipse and a portion of the National Mall - those few precious minutes of seeing the pope in the popemobile meant so much to so many.

"I never thought I'd be that close, I got chills," said parade-goer Ana Maria Osorio, an employee of U.S. Health and Human Services on assignment from San Francisco. "It was awesome. I was near such a happy, joyous group, and the day isn't over yet. I am going to listen to Mass on the Jumbotron next," she said.

When the official schedule was first announced, most people thought they would have no chance of seeing Pope Francis unless they were able to get a ticket to the Mass. Then, the Archdiocese of Washington announced Sept. 10 a papal parade would be open to the public. No ticket required.

After meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House Wednesday morning, the pope left his tiny Fiat for a Jeep Wrangler converted to a popemobile for the parade around the Ellipse.

Crowds were large - but surprisingly very patient, joyful and courteous - and some waited for more than seven hours for a glimpse of Pope Francis as he drove by.

A group of excited sisters, Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of the Matará, stood out in the crowd in their blue and grey habits along the barricade at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street. The sisters from Avondale, Pa., chanted, clapped and welcomed "Papa Francisco" all morning, and spoke with curious members of the crowd after the parade.

Sister Mary, Mother of Truth shared why she thought so many people came out for the event. She said, "They see in Pope Francis the joy of Christ. He would tell you himself that he can only give what he has received from Christ."

Shannan Fratto from Silver Spring came to see Pope Francis, but this is not the first pope she has seen up close. She was plucked out of the crowd as a baby, and handed to Pope John Paul II for a blessing and a kiss at an event in Detroit in 1987. She and her husband Mike came to the parade with their 2-year-old daughter Georgina at the urging of her family "to keep the tradition going." Fratto said Georgina has been walking around all week saying "Hi, pope." At the parade her little hands grasped a small papal flag and she clapped every time the crowd cheered.

The mood of the crowd was happy, and this was before Pope Francis arrived. Groups of people stopped to pray, others started "the wave," and others shouted a call and response across the street of "We love Francis, yes we do. We love Francis, how about you?"

"People don't know why they are so happy when they are around him, but (Pope Francis) would likely tell them that it is the joy he has from following Christ," said Sister Mary, Mother of Truth.

Rausch can be reached at srausch@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015