I watched the Pope’s Alitalia touch down at Joint Base Andrews (what old-timers like me still refer to as Andrews Air Force Base) from the media center established in a Crystal City hotel. What a great moment to see him arrive! Several of us were there in support of Bishop Richard Garcia, the Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey in California. As the Bishop of the Diocese in which Father Junipero Serra is buried, he has been a popular interviewee by the media. It has been a real treat to watch him navigate those waters with skill, wit and humor.
Back at our hotel, more and more bishops were pouring into the registration area, and the USCCB staff set up a nerve center in support of the bishops. It was wonderful to see some old friends from the staff and the bishops. They have a full day tomorrow, beginning with security screening here at the hotel prior to boarding their assigned buses. They will head to Morning Prayer with the Holy Father at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue. Then they will have lunch with him, eventually getting to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America on Michigan Avenue. There are then a variety of options for the bishops following the Mass! They’re in for a very full, rich, and tiring day.
As early as they’re starting, though, our little team is heading out toward Catholic University even earlier, since we have to find our own way there, and the street closures are, well, profound! DC is a small town and with the Pope heading to several different venues throughout the day, navigating the District — on a workday no less! — will be a challenge. We’re hoping to have a taxi drop us off at Trinity University down the street from CUA, and then walk to the campus. Somewhere during that trip, I’ll be giving an interview to CBS on the cell phone!
The campus opens mid-morning and the deacons and priests who are assisting and concelebrating will check in and be given our specific assignments. I’m hoping to be in the vicinity of our pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Monterey, but there’s no way to predict that. The challenge, of course, will be AFTER the Mass. Once the Pope departs people tend to want to rush away, but that will not be possible.
For those who are here, the challenge will be to remember that this is an historic moment with and for our Holy Father Francis, despite whatever happens. Patience, patience, patience! What’s even more important is to focus less on the “event” vibe that naturally surrounds such a moment, and really listen to Pope Francis and his challenges to us. It will be joyful, but it will not be an end unto itself. May this Mass renew us in our own vocations of service to those who are most in need around us. The great German theologian Herbert Vorgrimler once wrote that the role of the deacon is to offer our communities “concrete consequences” to the Eucharist in which we share. That challenge will be offered to us by Pope Francis tomorrow. He, too, will ask that all of us Catholics, regardless of ministerial role, identify and provide the “concrete consequences” of tomorrow’s Eucharist to the world around us. As the motto for this Apostolic Journey puts it, “Love is our Mission”!