The Personalist Project

For weeks, we on the outskirts of Washington  D.C. have been watching the preparations for Pope Francis' visit to our neighborhood. Fences sprouting everywhere, Secret Service types at every turn, low-flying helicopters. And detours. Lots of detours.

Two days ago, my husband surprised me with a ticket to the Papal Mass and canonization of Bl. Junipero Serra.

And this afternoon, I found myself in an endless line, snaking around blocks and blocks, waiting to get in.

Around me I heard Japanese, French, Italian, lots of Spanish, and even some English. A thin girl, hair streaked pink, was talking earnestly about a late assignment. Salesmen were hawking buttons and t-shirts ("I Heart Papa Francisco," and "Love All People"). Flocks of Dominican sisters strolled cheerfully past, reminding me not at all of the tough Italian nuns who used to shove us out of their way--with surprising strength of  elbow--on their path to Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. Regal African women in sparkling gowns and turbans rubbed shoulders with sloppy American students. 

No strollers were allowed, and I saw unsung heroes, like the father with a toddler sitting happily on his foot, arms wrapped around his ankle, as he trudged along the sidewalk, over the bridge you had to take into Brookland ("Little Rome") because traffic was prohibited between there and the Shrine.I saw them later. She had migrated to his shoulders. 

A college-age girl was jumping up and down excitedly. "Imma keep my ticket forever. Imma frame it. Can I?"

Another, one of the many who had already risen early to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis on the parade route that morning and then come here to wait hours to get into the Mass, was explaining, "Yeah, you couldn't really see him, he was up high, but he was just blessing everyone, and then he did thumbs up when he passed the disabled section."

There followed a long, long period of waiting for Pope Francis to be installed in his seat. Untill he was settled in, the police wouldn't let us into our sections to be seated. As the sun beat down, I listened to two ladies next to me kvetching about how THEY would have handled the logistics of seating thousands of people and keeping them all happy all afternoon, and how simple it would have been to do it correctly.

One tall man, who could see the Pope better than most of us, would report periodically, "Yeah, he's doin' laps...Yeah, he's still cruisin'..."

Then all at once Pope Francis made a turn and came closer to us, and a gaggle of little kids who had been playing quietly on the grass instantly rose as one, screaming at the top of their lungs, and made a joyful beeline for their Papa.

Eventually the Mass began. He seemed very, very tired--like any almost 80-year-old man with one lung who, on the heels of a trip from Rome to Cuba to Washington, was about to face New York and Philadelphia, one right after the other. But he seemed to gather strength as the Mass went on. My husband was happily surprised. "In Spanish," he noted, "he sounds like a father telling us things we need to know. The couple of times I looked at the screen translation, the words were more pointed, somewhere between remonstrative and accusatory, closer to the former. I like listening to him better than reading him in translation."

I'd heard the Mass was going to be in Spanish. A lot of it was, but I think nearly as much was in Latin. The remainder was mostly in English, along with Korean, Tagalog, Ameican Sign Language, Vietmamese, and Creole. There was also a reading in "the Chochenyo Native American language." A lector with Down Syndrome was also included--the first time I've seen that, but I hope not the last.

And the homily? It brought up by-now familiar themes of not allowing ourselves to be enclosed in our own comfortableness. He urged us not to settle for "placebos," not to let our hearts be "anesthetized." It reminded me of passages I loved when, right after his election to the papacy, I was helping to translate a collection of his homilies and talks. It's a beautiful introduction to themes he's been returning to ever since, patiently, themes which, if we could grasp them and be convinced to live by them, would make us all so much happier. Two years later, he still radiates affectionate hope and patience, not disappointment and frustration, as he gently tries to pound them into our heads.

Home again, I was met by my excited younger kids, who'd watched the Mass live-streamed on the computer.They'd gotten a far better view than I had, and had noticed all kinds of details that had gotten by me.

But I wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

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