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Pope Francis greets the crowd Sept. 23 before the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Photo by Luisa Claus.

Amidst sea of people, pope connects on personal level

Pope Francis’ historic six-day trip to the United States attracted hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia.

But in the midst of that humanity, the pope’s gift of connecting with people on a personal level fostered an intimate atmosphere during the World Meeting of Families, held Sept. 22-27 in Philadelphia, said Valerie Conzett, director of the archdiocese’s Center for Family Life Formation.

"He comes alive when he gets the opportunity to be around people," she said.

Pope Francis’ personal connection shone through Sept. 26 during the Festival of Families along the downtown Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Conzett said, as the pope discarded his prepared text and spoke from the heart about the love and challenges of family.

Also executive director of FOCCUS Inc. USA, Conzett was one of five staff members who manned a booth for the center during the adult congress at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

At the center’s booth, they put faces to people they have been working with through the center’s programs via phone and email, she said. Staff members handed out copies of SOW-REAPP, the center’s new process of prayer and formation, and spoke with many individuals and organizations eager to strengthen family offerings, Conzett said.

Security officials and residents also were friendly and helpful, adding up to an inviting atmosphere in which Christ’s presence was felt through each person, Conzett said.

"That just happened constantly," she said.

Kandi Beed said she also saw the pope’s influence resonating in the friendly, smiling faces among the "wall-to-wall" people gathered about three blocks from a security checkpoint.

A member of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, Beed was among 20 people who took a bus trip offered through the archdiocese by Iowa-based Legacy Tour and Travel.

One group of students walking through the crowd carried a large image of Mary and the baby Jesus that many people lightly touched as it passed by, she said.

Another group handed out pamphlets with songs and prayers so people could try to follow along, Beed said.

And everywhere there were opportunities to talk to people from all over the world – including some with connections to Omaha – all of whom were gathered in excitement to hear the pope, Beed said.

As she returns home and tries to live Pope Francis’ call to be a disciple and to treat all people with compassion and respect, Beed said she will draw inspiration from the witness of those on the bus and from the crowds in Philadelphia.

"It makes you feel closer to your faith," she said.

Impressions and reactions


Archbishop Lucas

A visit with prisoners.

Pope Francis reaching out to people in prison in Philadelphia particularly moved Archbishop George J. Lucas, who greeted the pope personally during Francis’ visit to the United States, but watched the prison meeting on television.

"The pope gave a moving talk and then took the time to visit each of the prisoners who were in the room personally," the archbishop said.

The pope’s ability to connect with people one on one, as well as in vast crowds, is amazing, Archbishop Lucas said. And whether in secular settings or preaching at Mass, the pope invites people to find spiritual meaning in challenges and blessings, the archbishop said.

"He wants us to know that God is at work in the world, and that God invites our participation in his divine plan," Archbishop Lucas said. "He uses terms like ‘encounter’ and ‘dialogue’ to encourage us to see the faces and learn the names of our neighbors, to offer respect, especially to those with whom we may differ."


Archbishop Emeritus Curtiss

 "As the past episcopal adviser for Serra International, it was a special time for me and the bishops of the United States gathered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23 with Pope Francis for Mass at Catholic University for the canonization of Junipero Serra," said Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss. "The large enthusiastic crowd, the tribute to Native Americans, and the words of our pope regarding the role of Father Serra in founding the California missions was an amazing experience for me and for all the Serrans who were present."


Others from the archdiocese

"It was an awesome experience to be there with our humble, compassionate pope. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget." Linda Thomsen, secretary to Archbishop George J. Lucas and Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss, canonization Mass for Junipero Serra in Washington, D.C.

"Hearing Papa Francisco’s Spanish speaking soft and humble voice renewed my spirit, along with his simple message of taking care of the poor, not putting our money first, reaching out to society’s outcasts and taking care of our Earth and getting along." Luisa Claus, auditor with the archdiocese’s Marriage Tribunal Office and HR assistant in the Office of Human Resources, canonization Mass.

"The spirit of being in a large crowd in (Washington) D.C. was very different this time. This was a worldwide celebration and as such had a much broader feeling of inclusivity. This was an event that would impact the entire world." Sister Laura Reicks, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas West Midwest Community, Omaha, canonization Mass.

"The pope kept saying the family is threatened from within and threatened from without. We’ve got to try to do what we can to help heal ourselves and then help heal the families around us. … We have to do the work, we have to be the missionary disciples." Deacon Michael Conzett, who serves St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha and distributed Communion during the closing papal Mass Sept. 27 in Philadelphia.

"Every time he spoke, all weekend, it was a message that disarmed those who would disagree with each other. It was a spirit of openness, charity and humility." Marie Rubis Bauer, director of music for the archdiocese and St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, attended canonization Mass, later viewed events on television.

"It is so touching and inspiring to us, particularly the way he supports family, which is the core of the Catholic Church." Alejandra Martinez, a freshman at Creighton University and member of St. Joseph Parish in Omaha, who traveled by bus to Philadelphia with 50 students from the university’s campus ministry program.

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