Thousands of moments shared at canonization Mass

Pope Francis' time in the United States is a shared and historic story for the U.S. church. But his visit is also a collection of hundreds of thousands of smaller, personal stories - moments of meaning where hearts were moved and transformations began.

Among those stories were many from the Arlington Diocese, as countless parishioners and priests attended papal events in Washington, including the canonization Mass of Blessed Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sept. 23.

Beth Monroe, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield and assistant principal of the parish school, found out she was attending the Mass just days prior, when a close friend offered her and her daughter, Sheridan, tickets.

"At first I was stunned," said Monroe. She immediately texted her husband: "God knows our secret desires and knows how to show His love."

Still "taking it all in" a few days after the Mass, Monroe said the atmosphere at the outdoor liturgy - attended by about 25,000 people - was "electric."

"Everyone was so joyful, so excited," she said, adding that it was a special treat to share the day with her daughter, a sophomore at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington.

Taking notes during the homily, given in Spanish with English translations on large screens, Monroe said two things deeply resonated with her.

The pope said that "life grows by being given away," she said. "That's so true. When you're doing things for other people and working humbly for God, your internal life grows."

The pope also spoke about nurturing "God's life in others."

"I really try to do that with teachers and with my own kids," she said.

Michelle Ramirez, who works for the Arlington diocesan Development Office, said she "could feel the love for the pope within the crowds of people. You could sense that everyone felt united to one another just by being in the presence of the pope and sharing that experience with so many others."

Father James C. Hinkle, parochial vicar of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn, was one of around 1,000 priests - 57 from the diocese - concelebrating the canonization Mass.

"When I recited the words for the institution of the Eucharist with so many priests and bishops, and the pope, it was so very powerful," he said.

Like Monroe, Father Hinkle felt the homily was packed with spiritual wisdom and calls to action.

"A fellow parishioner put it well, 'His message was firm and arrestingly gentle,'" said Father Hinkle.

Father Hinkle added that while many of Pope Francis' words are directed at Catholics, they are reaching the hearts of all those who encounter them.

"His dialogue is so fundamental to the person of Jesus Christ," said Father Hinkle, "so ecumenical, that no one can turn away from what he has to say."

Permanent Deacon Nicholas LaDuca of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale was an ordinary minister of holy Communion for the canonization Mass.

After a long wait, being sequestered together for much of the Mass, the ordinary ministers of holy Communion filed out among the aisles to ensure everyone who wanted it could receive the Eucharist. Deacon LaDuca admitted that "being in the presence of the Holy Father was an awe-inspiring experience."

John Enzmann and his wife, Pequitte Schwerin, parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, said that the excitement in the air was palpable, even as people waited hours in security lines.

"This pope exudes love and mercy, and people feel that," said Schwerin.

Kelsey McManus, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale who won a ticket for her and her mom through the parish, came to realize after the Mass "how important it is to pray for our pope.

"At the Mass he did look kind of tired because he had already done so much that day," she said. "I want to take some time out of the day to pray for the pope … people say he's the pope and already received so many graces, but he still needs prayer."

McManus called the Mass a "moment in history."

"It was beautiful to be there, and no one knows what heaven will be like, but I think it was a little like heaven because everyone was so happy to be there and it didn't matter where you were seated."

Contributing to this story were Katie Scott, Ashleigh Buyers and Dave Borowski.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015