If you’re studying for the priesthood, and the pope comes to town, then that town is where you want to be. So when Pope Francis arrived in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia late last month, a group of 34 seminarians from the Diocese of Orange were in those two towns to welcome him and soak in the unique experience of a papal visit and its attendant activities.
“The purpose of the trip was originally simply to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and to have the seminarians attend the various talks and presentations in regard to building better families, and to see the pope,” says Father John Moneypenny, the diocesan Director of Vocations who helped arrange the trip. “Most of the seminarians had not had the opportunity to see the Holy Father. What a better chance than to participate in such an historical and important occasion. After we had almost completed all the arrangement for the trip, it was announced that Junipero Serra would be canonized a saint in Washington, D.C. And that was something we just had to attend if at all possible.
“It was a wonderful pilgrimage. The seminarians had a chance to attend the World Meeting of Families and be inspired Pope Francis’ message of the importance of the family. I was inspired by the seminarians enthusiasm and love for the Church. It was a renewing and moving to see our seminarians praying together, ministering to the poor and homeless and being Christian witnesses as we walked through the streets of Philadelphia. This shared experience is something they will unpack for a long time and will enhance their discernment toward the priesthood.”
The seminarians, from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park and Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, were asked to write reflections on their experiences during the papal visit. Here are excerpts from five of them:
St. John’s Seminary, currently interning at Santa Clara de Asis Church in Yorba Linda
This pilgrimage was memorable not just because I got to see Pope Francis but how I experienced being a witness to God’s love.
A moment which touched my heart was when we prepared ourselves to receive communion at the papal Mass in Philadelphia on the streets of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The people of Philadelphia definitely welcomed us, as millions flocked to the city. As we prepared to receive Eucharist, hundreds of priests made their way to their stations, accompanied by attendants holding aloft bright Vatican umbrellas by which the distribution stations could be located amid the crowd. Thousands of people, if not the whole million, gravitated towards the Eucharist. It truly was a graced moment because I could only reflect about how many people were there and how we would all receive Communion. What initially looked like it would be a chaotic moment was instead very peaceful. The sight of people flocking toward the Eucharist to be fed spiritually with a minimal amount of priests comforted me as to where I am today, a seminarian studying for the priesthood.
St. John’s Seminary
I came back from Philadelphia with a renewed love for the person of Jesus, especially as seen among the poor and outcast–not only in society at large, but also closer to home.
I am inspired by Pope Francis, who speaks this truth most powerfully in the concrete circumstances of his life–whenever he eats with the homeless, whenever he visits prisoners, whenever he listens to the cries of those whom so few listen to.
St. John’s Seminary
There were two highlights for me during our trip. First, spending a whole week with my brother seminarians and with Bishop Vann has been a true blessing. Because we are scattered at various different seminaries, we don’t get to spend much time together. It was particularly nice getting to know the new men who started this year. It was also nice to have Bishop Vann join us throughout the week. This really gave me a sense that he cares for and is genuinely interested in his seminarians. This trip gave us a time to pray together and develop as community and as brothers.
Participating in the canonization Mass was another huge blessing. I was lucky to have gotten a seat inside the basilica with other men and women in formation. When the Holy Father walked into the basilica, the welcome we gave him was explosive; you could just feel the joy and love in that space. During the Mass, praying with the people present there and around the world really gave me a sense of the Universal Church. It was also great to be part of this historical moment: Pope Francis’ first Mass in the U.S. and the first canonization to take place on U.S. soil.
St. Patrick’s Seminary, currently interning at St. Irenaeus Church in Yorba Linda
Pope Francis is arguably one of the most popular popes in the history of the Catholic Church. I discovered why when I saw him and heard him speak. Pope Francis is so authentic and humble, and he truly loves the people. His desire to go out to the people is what gets me most excited about him.
Pope Francis inspires the people that see him and hear him. His actions and his words are perfectly aligned. He practices what he preaches. I came away inspired to follow him, in his service, and in his love for the people. This visit has given me a greater sense of purpose: to love Jesus with every fiber of my being, and to love others in the same way.
It was special to experience what it is like to have 1.5 million Catholics in one place. It was a sight to see and—I’ll be honest—it was a bit crazy. On the streets of Philadelphia I saw many nuns, priests, seminarians and lay people walking around the city witnessing the faith. That experience alone deeply inspired me to continue witnessing the faith in Orange County and to not be afraid in doing it.
Lastly, I have a greater appreciation of the family. I learned in a deeper way that moments of difficulty often bring about great fruits when we trust God and stick with it and remain faithful in loving our own families and friends. I will never forget my time with Pope Francis. It was a week of many blessings.
St. Patrick’s Seminary
As I reflect on this awesome experience, I struggle to even begin to grasp the incredible grace and blessing I have so undeservingly received. Who am I to have had, in the last week, prayed and celebrated with Pope Francis on three different occasions? Most people will not get this opportunity even once in their lives. We got to see him up close. We got to hear him preach but, most importantly, we were all touched by his joyful witness and fatherly embrace. The Spirit moved my heart deeply, confirming my vocation and desire to give my life in service to his people.
There were two themes that rang out for me over the week: mission and witness.
One of the greatest gifts I received this week is a greater sense of belonging to our big, crazy and beautiful family of faith that knows no limits. The Church is a family of families from every land and people. It is my family and in it all find their home. It has room for everyone.