Oct. 7, 2015
The day before I left for Washington, DC and New York City for the Papal Visit, I enjoyed celebrating the Mass for the opening of the new school year at Immaculate Heart Central in Watertown.
It was the Feast of St. Matthew, the Apostle. In my homily, I reflected on the Gospel passage for the Feast, that familiar scene where Matthew was visited by Jesus at his tax collector post and invited by the Lord to “Follow me.”
Those words have special meaning for me as I chose them as my episcopal motto.
My first opportunity to meet Pope Francis was the next day at mid-day prayer at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC.
The Holy Father told the bishops: “Our greatest joy is to be shepherds…, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it.”
Later that afternoon, I joined thousands from all over the world at the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
At that Mass, on the eve of my anniversary to the priesthood, we sang Pescador de Hombres (“Lord You Have Come to the Seashore”), a hymn I chose for my first Mass. Happy Coincidence!
The next morning I flew to New York and that evening participated in an awe-filled Vespers Service at beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Talk about coincidence - on this, the anniversary of my ordination day - the Recessional Hymn selected for Vespers was the same hymn, O God beyond All Praising, I chose to be sung as I imparted my first Episcopal blessing at the end of my ordination/installation liturgy at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
To say the least, my prayer experiences with the Holy Father were powerful, inspirational and joy-filled! I pray I never lose that joy or be robbed of it.
The Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis at the World Trade Center Memorial was a very moving experience for me.
When former Mayor Rudy Guiliani arrived for the service, standing just a few feet from me, I found it difficult to swallow as I remembered the horror of that dreadful day. When a Jewish rabbi and Muslim Imam embraced, with the Holy Father standing behind them, it seemed that peace was possible, if only, as His Holiness tells us again and again, we would learn how to dialogue, to encounter.
My final opportunity to pray with the Pope would be at Madison Square Gardens. What a venue!
The last time I celebrated Mass at a place which was home to a hockey team was during the Year of Faith when thousands throughout the Diocese of Ogdensburg and beyond gathered on a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon at the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid.
On that wonderful occasion we were privileged and blessed to welcome the personal representative of the Holy Father to the United States, Archbishop Vigano, to preside at the Eucharist. That day we experienced a true miracle on ice.
I couldn’t help but reminisce about that beautiful diocesan event, as I walked out in procession over the covered ice where the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup too many years ago. Only this time, not only was Archbishop Vigano present, the Holy Father himself presided!
Many fellow pilgrims, priests and laity from the North Country joined in the Eucharistic celebration. And, wouldn’t you know, while it was a different city and a different venue, that night heard us singing a familiar Communion Hymn, Pescador de Hombres! Happy Coincidence…not a chance. Blessed Providence, for sure!
As we left Mass and were walking back to the Bishops’ bus, parked on the street in front of St. Francis of Assisi Church, I thought what a fitting place to conclude my pilgrimage.
Here we saw so many people who live on the margins of life sitting on the Church steps. The Franciscan friars serve hundreds of sandwiches every day from that place of worship.
Here, as Pope Francis so eloquently reminded us again and again, were some of the “leftover” people, those who our economy don’t seem to need. We can number the unborn, the elderly, the migrant, the persecuted, among them as well.
The encounters with which I was privileged to share with the Holy Father, even if from a distance, provided the atmosphere from which I could fill my lungs with the grace I need to guide our local church even more aware of the needs of the hurting in our midst.
The tremendous excitement and religious fervor that I experienced among tens of thousands of people tells me that God’s Spirit is very much alive and at work in our midst. I know that the many pilgrims who trekked to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and the concluding Papal Mass experienced similar feelings of joy and gratitude.
It was with much eager anticipation that I returned back home. We are rightly proud of the Vicar of Christ on earth, our Pope Francis. His pastoral visit, like all pastoral visits, should affirm and challenge, inspire and motivate.
Let us continue to pray for our Holy Father. We pray and do our part to see that the message he brings will bear much fruit.