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The Francis frenzy

| Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ever since I learned Pope Francis would make an apostolic journey to the United States, I set a goal to meet him. I didn’t care what city — D.C., New York or Philadelphia. I just wanted to meet him.

Months ago, I began contacting friends who might be able to help me get a ticket to one of the events. A priest I know was in charge of the Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I told him I would begin practicing to be the lectern, if necessary, and I could meet the Pope when he preached from the lectern. Through a friend I was able to get a ticket to the Mass of Canonization. The ticket arrived Sept. 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the patronal feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross. I had my “speech” all prepared if I had the chance to meet the Holy Father. “Santo Padre, yo te amo. Y te doy muchas gracias por todo lo que estás haciendo por la Iglesia y por el mundo. … Holy Father, I love you. And I thank you very much for everything you are doing for the Church and for the world.”

I had the great privilege of concelebrating the Mass of Canonization of Junípero Serra. The Holy Father presided. When I arrived at the National Shrine, the desire to meet Pope Francis personally began to fade away. While I would have liked to meet him, I was simply grateful, so grateful to see him and to concelebrate a Mass that he would preside at. I also wanted to listen closely to his homily.

I loved his homily. The “mercy Pope” is really a man of mercy. He spoke so beautifully in Spanish, reminding us that darkness and error and sin never have the last word when it comes to God. What has the last word is the “oil of hope.” He used that phrase several times and when he did, he moved his hand as though he were massaging someone with the oil of hope.

Several things were so clear as he preached. He is a man of God. He is a man of mercy. He believes what he preaches. I would even say he is what he preaches. I thought, “I could go to confession to him, because he would anoint me with the oil of hope and the oil of mercy.” Pope Francis does not have only ecclesial authority. He also has moral authority. I believe what he preaches, because he is the Pope, but more so because he speaks from his own encounter and life with Jesus. He knows Jesus and in his travels, in his life, in his person, he makes Jesus known.

As I walked through the crowds of thousands before and after the Papal Mass, I was really struck by how much Spanish I heard. It is just a sign of the current and future reality of the Catholic Church in the United States. I know all the data and all the numbers, but I was still amazed by so many people speaking Spanish.

After the Mass, I took the subway from the National Shrine to the stop near the hotel where I stayed. The subway was filled with thousands of people who were coming from the Mass. When I walked from the subway to the hotel, many people asked me, “Did you see him?” The entire city was alive with Francis Frenzy. “Yes, I saw him,” I was happy to say.

Pope Francis is a rock star like no other. Watching him in the Papal Parade was amazing. He has the unique ability to deflect all the adulation and praise and truly point to Our Lord. As he waves on the right and then on the left, it’s clear this is not about him. It’s about God. He wants to draw peoples’ attention and sights to God, not to him.

At the end of a beautiful day in D.C., I thought to myself … I did not get to meet Pope Francis today. Far more important than meeting him, he inspired me to want to love his boss more … and my boss. In his person and in his words, he encourages us to love God more and to be better messengers of his mercy. I can hear him saying, “It’s not important you meet me. I want you to meet Jesus, the incarnation of God’s mercy and love.”

Friday afternoon, the Holy Father visited Our Lady, Queen of Angels Catholic School in East Harlem. I had the great honor of providing some commentary on the USCCB’s live feed about his visit. The USCCB told me they would send me his speech in advance of his visit to the school. Several hours before he arrived, I received an e-mail that read “From the Holy See Press Office. Embargoed until 4:00 p.m.” I’m sure that I will not receive many more e-mails with those words in the subject line.

I loved watching the Holy Father interact with the children, teachers and parents at Our Lady, Queen of Angels School. He was so happy and so engaging. Here again I was surprised and pleased to see how many students spoke to the Holy Father in Spanish. This is a sign of the Church’s real attempt in the past six years to actively recruit Latino children and families to Catholic schools. The Holy Father had to be pleased with his visit to the school because he was able to see first hand that the Church continues her mission to educate children of immigrants.

I love Pope Francis. ¡Viva el Papa! ¡Viva!


Fr. Joe Corpora is the Director of University-School Partnerships in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). He also serves in Campus Ministry. He is a priest in residence in Dillon Hall.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Fr. Joe Corpora

Fr. Joe Corpora works in the Alliance for Catholic Education, serves as Latino Chaplain in Campus Ministry and is a priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall. He is a sinner whose sins are forgiven. And he loves anything made with tomato sauce.

Contact Joe