This past week at Christ the Redeemer was on one hand extraordinarily busy. On the other hand, it was simply the parish going about its usual mission and ministry. We kicked off the week with Catechetical Sunday, blessing catechists at the 10:00 AM and 12 Noon masses for the national start of the Religious Education Year. Sunday and Monday classes began for junior and senior high school students, along with the announcement of an upcoming Youth Ministry Kick-Off scheduled for Sunday, October 4th in Atonement Hall after the 5:30 PM Mass.
Tuesday, I joined the International Intercultural Choir, one of several choirs, for a dress rehearsal at the Basilica in Washington DC in preparation for Pope Francis’ historic canonization mass. Wednesday, Christ the Redeemer offices were closed to enable staff and others to make their way into DC or stay at home to watch the Papal visit to DC. As a choir member, I left my home around 7:30 AM and did not get home again until 9:00 PM. The day was a mixture of pomp and circumstance, security checkpoints, multiple languages.
Everyone has been asking me either “Did you get to see the Pope?” or “What was it like?” I did get to see the Pope. I also sang in the choir when Pope Benedict XVI visited and held mass at National Stadium. Because of the way the stadium was set up with the altar behind second base and the choir up above the visitor’s bull-pen, I couldn’t see the pope except on the jumbo-tron screens. But at the Basilica and Catholic University campus, I had clear sight-lines to the altar. I also was about 100 feet away when the Pope Mobile came down Michigan Avenue and entered the gated off venue. But in truth, I’ve seen pictures from other parishioners who were in DC that day that look as if they either were closer than I was or they got to see a public side of him that I did not during the mass.
“What was it like?” is a much longer story. The Pope is still here in the US and everything is still a blur. I attended his historic visit to Congress the following day and marveled at how a fairly straightforward address that highlighted points of our Catholic faith became fodder for either spectrum of the political Beltway to bat back and forth.
Pope Francis left DC and stepped into the world of NYC. He visited the 9-11 Memorial Site as well as a school in Harlem. He traveled through Central Park and spoke at the UN. He visited St. Patrick for evening vespers with priests and religious men and women. (And as some noted, with some well-to-do donors). What can be said? He is a high-profile figure who is liable to be lauded and lambasted for the optics of various moments.
Also on Friday while this was going on, John Boehner announced he would be stepping down as House Speaker and resigning his position. (More spin, conjecture and talk). But for me it was time to bid bon voyage to youth from Our Lady of Hope, St. Thomas a Becket and our own parish of Christ the Redeemer who were traveling by bus to #walkwithfrancis and meet the #PopeInPhilly for #WMOF (world meeting of families).
Saturday, the second and final Confirmation Retreat was held in Atonement Hall, while the Spanish Religious Education program continued. Simultaneously a Spanish Mass with 27 baptisms went on followed later by a funeral mass, while my Confirmation group was having their lunch.
It has indeed been a long week. “What was it like?” My Mormon brother-in-law commented on a Facebook post of mine from the Papal Mass earlier in the week saying, “Great, tell us what did you learn?” At the time, I hastily wrote, “I learned a lot of music and some more Spanish.” But the greater truth, still evolving, is what will this all mean for the life of my parish, my own family’s life, and the perception or actual role of the Catholic Church in the world?
Two things stood out to me from the Pope’s address to Congress: He denounced the arms trade and he called for the global abolition of capital punishment. Are we likely to see either of these things happen in the U.S.? How strongly will the Catholic Church take up that call? Or more modestly, how likely are we to examine and hold up the lives of the American Saints Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day in our time instead of spending our time denouncing or defending the canonization of Junipero Serra?