Recalling Experiences at Masses Celebrated by ‘People’s Pope’

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Pope Francis speaks to religious during Vespers at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Pope Francis speaks to religious during vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

When Pope Francis visited the United States this month, many friars were able to participate in the papal Masses and prayer services. From Tuesday through Sunday, from Washington to New York to Philadelphia, Franciscans could be seen at the events. Like so many people, they were thrilled to see the Holy Father. Amidst the crowds, the friars snapped photos and cherished the moment. Afterward, many shared thoughts about their experiences.

Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, and Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Pompton Lakes, N.J., welcomed the pontiff in a series of videos produced by Octavio Duran, OFM, and the HNP Vocation Office.

“Pope Francis has done so much to welcome people, both in the Church and back to the Church,” Kevin said in his video. “He inspires me to keep reaching out.” Kevin had the opportunity to meet the pope earlier this year at the Order’s General Chapter.

Mark Reamer and Julian Davies take a photo front of the altar before the canonization Mass. (Photo courtesy of Mark)

Mark Reamer and Julian Davies in front of the altar before the Canonization Mass. (Photo courtesy of Mark)

Washington, D.C.
On Sept. 23, friars from Maryland as well as from other areas attended the Mass of Canonization of Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and, the next day, the Mass of Thanksgiving at the nearby Franciscan Monastery.

Kevin Mackin, OFM, who traveled to the nation’s capital from St. Petersburg, Fla., said on his blog, A Franciscan Journey, that Pope Francis “enthralled” crowds in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. The Canonization Mass celebrated on the campus of his alma mater, The Catholic University of America, was “uplifting,” Kevin said. “The pope quoted St. Junípero Serra’s motto, ‘siempre adelante,’ or ‘always forward,’ in evangelizing people.” The blog described the papal events that followed, concluding by saying, “Holy Father Francis, we will not forget. I anticipate we will take to heart the themes you underscored in your visit for a long time to come. Pope Francis is a Jesuit but also a Franciscan in heart.”

Student friar Casey Cole, OFM, wrote on his blog, Breaking in the Habit, that Wednesday was “one of the craziest, most chaotic, exciting and uncomfortable” days of his life. In a post titled “#PopeInDC,” Casey, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said, “As far as the Mass goes, it was pretty nice. I’m definitely not one for pomp and circumstance, and some of the ritual just seemed intentionally over-the-top, but there were definitely some amazing things I doubt we would have seen with the previous two popes being from Europe. The Mass was in Spanish, not Latin, and many of the songs represented Latin American culture. There were definitely high Latin aspects of the Mass, songs set to the organ and chanted responses, but there were also powerful Latin-American songs that seemed to be more ‘of the people,’ if I may. This song, for instance, was written and performed by the music director of our Franciscan parish in Silver Spring. The pope’s homily was also quite good.”


From left to right, John Aherne, Abel Garcia, Christian Seno, Michael Reyes, Casey Cole, Dennis Bennett and Abraham Joseph. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

Kevin Cronin, OFM, of Butler, N.J., said the experience of concelebrating with Pope Francis was both wonderful and stressful. “It was a stressful because of getting through D.C. traffic, waiting to get in with tickets, then standing in the hot sun for four hours, coping with the ‘hurry up & wait’ theme that was everybody’s story these few days. But it was all wonderful!”

He continued, “When the Holy Father stepped out on the altar at the basilica, tears streamed from my eyes. What a wonderful celebration it was for the friars and for the whole Church in the USA. Many friars of every different color and shape of hood were in attendance. We were proud to see our General Minister Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, and Fr. Mel Jurisich, OFM, up on the altar.”

Mark Reamer, OFM, of Loudonville, N.Y., said, “The experience of being with Pope Francis and fellow friars for the canonization of Junípero Serra was very worthwhile and meaningful. It was amazing how festive and yet prayerful the Mass was on the lawn of the shrine. The entire day had the feel of a festival on the campus of Catholic University.”

David McBriar, OFM, who traveled from Raleigh, N.C., to attend the Canonization Mass, said, “Being in Washington for our Holy Father’s Mass at Catholic University and then watching him speak to Congress was thrilling. I was particularly impressed with the thousands of people who came to be with him or just catch a glimpse of him.

“I waited in line for two hours just to get onto the campus of Catholic University. Imagine 20,000 people waiting in line to get through eight to ten scanners! And yet, there was no frustration or anyone claiming priority. Many bishops also had to wait. The mood throughout the thousands of people at CUA and then at Congress was one of joy and gratitude. It was clear that the man is beloved. His messages were strong and challenging. He truly is the ‘People’s Pope.’”


From left to right: postulants Crawford Bennett, Jim Bernard, Steve Kuehn, Adolfo Navarro, Mitchell Ortiz and Nicholas Carbuto show their tickets to the Mass. (Photo courtesy of Ron Pecci)

Christian Seno, OFM, like several HNP formation students, attended both Wednesday’s Mass and the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Canonization of St. Junípero Serra on Thursday morning. He said, “It was a wonderful experience, a great follow-up to the excitement of the Canonization Mass with Pope Francis the day before. It was moving to celebrate with Fr. Michael Perry, as well so many of our Franciscan brothers and sisters, including a delegation from St. Junípero’s hometown of Petra, Spain.”

Jud Weiksnar, OFM, of Buffalo, N.Y., said he went to Washington to see Pope Francis from the West Lawn of the Capitol, not realizing that “there would be about 25,000 other people there, but it was still a great experience.” An added bonus, he said, “was that despite being past the application deadline, the Archdiocese of Washington gave me a pass to be a concelebrant at the Canonization Mass.”

For Jud, highlights included “seeing Francis, albeit from a bit of a distance, and feeling the wave of energy that pulsed through the crowd, and hearing his address to Congress while standing outside within a few hundred yards of where he was speaking. I appreciated his every word, and realized that most of what the pope was saying in D.C., we’ve been hearing from Holy Name Province’s JPIC Office for years.” Jud was also pleased to find out “that a person who was videotaping me was not from Homeland Security, but was doing a documentary for Nuns on the Bus. And she remembered meeting our Student Leaders in Camden, N.J., two years ago.”

The pope’s most important message, said Jud, “was that things can change. People admire him so much because of being multi-dimensional. There is so much in him for people of different backgrounds and different faiths to admire.”


Basil Valente and Michael Harlan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before Vespers with Pope Francis. (Photo courtesy of Basil)

New York City
Pope Francis began his visit to the “Big Apple” on Sept. 24 with Evening Prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Among the friars there was Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, who said, “The energy and enthusiasm that Pope Francis engendered throughout his visit to the United States was palpable in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

He continued, “The fully-packed cathedral, gleaming brightly for its newly-renovated debut, pulsed with an excitement that swelled to near delirium as Francis made his way down the main aisle at the start of the Vesper service. In his message, Francis exhorted clergy and religious to ground their lives in gratitude and hard work, not measuring success by worldly criteria but rather by the standard of the cross. His recognition of the signal contribution of U.S. religious sisters in their living-out of the spirit of Vatican II on the front-lines of ministry in this country, and his personal expression of gratitude to them for their life and witness, was a well-deserved and timely reminder of what religious life still has to offer the world in our day.”

The next day, the pope traveled to the World Trade Center, where FDNY chaplain Christopher Keenan, OFM, was among religious leaders who gathered for the interfaith prayer service.

“In a world where hatred and war are exercised in God’s name, it was an incredible experience to see all the women and men of religious faiths praying together for peace with Pope Francis,” said Chris. “He named every personal experience suffered by the victims of 9/11. He heard their voice and expressed the pain and the hope that has been part of their lives. Following on the theme that we are committed to serving people, not an ideology, he celebrated the richness of the diversity of the religious experience and called for a unity in resisting attempts to impose or to enforce one way of thinking or being.”

Chris found these words from the pope’s remarks to the firefighters to be very moving: “In a metropolis which might seem impersonal, faceless, lonely, you demonstrated the powerful solidarity born of mutual support, love and self-sacrifice. No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics. It was all about solidarity, meeting immediate needs, brotherhood. It was all about being brothers and sisters. New York City firemen walked into the crumbling towers with no concern for their own well-being. Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved.”

The pope continued, “This place of death became a place of life, too — a place of saved lines, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”

The late Mychal Judge, OFM, who was killed while serving as FDNY chaplain on Sept. 11, was mentioned in the introductions to the pope’s remarks.

Several friars from West 31st Street, including Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, concelebrated the papal Mass at Madison Square Garden, just a block from the friary, on Sept. 25 with 500 other priests.

While waiting in line to get into Madison Square Garden, Dan Riley found communications coordinator Maria Hayes. (Photo courtesy of Maria)

While waiting in line to get into Madison Square Garden, Dan Riley found communications coordinator Maria Hayes. (Photo courtesy of Maria)

“Security was tight getting into the Garden and it took a long time to have the 20,000 people go through the checkpoint that TSA had set up in the lobby,” said Andrew. “The pope arrived a half hour early from Central Park and was driven around the floor of the arena in a golf cart with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The crowd went wild. His homily was well done, taking the word ‘light’ from the Isaiah reading, ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,’ to speak about Jesus the light in New York City and the ‘light’ being here because we are here. After Communion, Cardinal Dolan gave the official welcome. He said, ‘Every day we pray for our Holy Father Francis in the Eucharistic Prayer, and here he is in New York City.’ The crowd rose and cheered and applauded and this continued for a long time. It was very moving. As the Holy Father was waiting for the procession to leave, he turned and gave all of us who were sitting behind him a special greeting. This was my first papal Mass.”

Basil Valente, OFM, who attended Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as well as the Mass on Friday at Madison Square Garden, said he felt “blessed, amazed, delighted, revitalized and loved during my journey of faith through the heart of New York with Pope Francis and my brother friars, especially at Evening Prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

Daniel Riley, OFM, who traveled from Western New York, talked about his experience attending the Sept. 25 Mass at Madison Square Garden in a podcast posted on Mt. Irenaeus’s website. As Pope Francis departed the United States, Dan reflected on Thomas Merton and our call to be the light to the world.


William DeBiase joyfully anticipates the start of the papal Mass on the Parkway in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Michael Duffy)

The pope spent the final two days of his U.S. visit in Philadelphia, where he appeared at the World Meeting of Families Congress, the international event that occurs every five years, and met with bishops, visited a prison and celebrated two Masses. Several friars stationed in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood shared their observations about being among the crowd.

“The past, present and future all seemed to converge at the Mass Pope Francis celebrated on Saturday,” said William DeBiase, OFM. “I say the past because Pope Francis represented the 2000-year history of the Church, the present because he spoke to the world with its hopes and fears, and the future because he spoke of hope and of always moving forward. The only word that I can think of to summarize the experience is ‘wow.’”

John Gill, OFM, said, “It was one of the greatest spiritual experiences that I ever had with such a large group of people that I didn’t know. The Ben Franklin Parkway was full people of different ethnicities and cultures standing side by side sharing faith together in a Eucharist celebration. In this outdoor setting with so many different people sharing faith together it was great experience of Church. What I found a little surprising was once Mass started, a sense of silence and reverence filled the large crowd of people. Everyone was in good spirits as they waited a couple of hours for Pope Francis to arrive and the Mass to begin. I saw some folks praying the rosary and others singing and dancing.”

“We are the Church. We’re all in this together,” said John Anglin, OFM, on his blog, The Wandering Friar. The Florida resident, as many Americans did, shared in the excitement of the events from a distance.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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