Like a presidential inauguration, Pope Francis’ first-ever visit to Washington, D.C., drew the faithful and the curious from across the country.
The canonization late Wednesday afternoon of Father Junípero Serra was particularly poignant for many from the central San Joaquin Valley.
Rev. Jean-Michael Lastiri, director of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno’s Office of Worship and pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Hanford, was among more than half a dozen clergy from the diocese to attend the canonization, including Bishop Armando Ochoa.
“It was electrifying,” Lastiri said of the two-hour Mass, held in Spanish, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Lastiri was seated about 100 feet from Pope Francis during the special Mass that made the founder of California’s missions a saint.
Lastiri said it’s important to remember that the long process to make Serra a saint began in Fresno, when the dioceses of Monterey and Fresno were combined.
He said Serra’s sainthood will hopefully garner a greater appreciation for the development of California but that the controversy surrounding the missions – where many Native Americans lived and worked during a period of Spanish colonization – is a reminder that the Catholic Church still has a lot of work to do in apologizing for past “hurts.”
Lastiri called the pope’s remarks “very uplifting” and said he appreciated the diversity of the celebration, which included choir music and a passage read in a Native American dialect from California.
“It was just a beautiful expression of the calligraphy that is California Catholicism,” he said.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Visalia native Daniel Sepulveda, a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., who got a ticket from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, to see the pope Thursday
Like an inauguration, some got choice seats. United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez and Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, were among the select few at the White House for the pope’s arrival ceremony Wednesday morning.
And, like an inauguration, congressional offices played pivotal roles.
Each Senate office received 200 outdoor tickets to distribute and each House office 50, and one ticket each for a seat within the Capitol. Jumbotrons were set up for those outside to remotely experience the papal address.
Several Fresno Pacific University students and Karen Cianci, dean of the university’s School of Natural Sciences, received their tickets from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno. The university’s contingent just happened to be in town to receive an award from Excelencia in Education; others made the journey strictly for the 78-year-old Pope Francis.
The Rev. William McDonald III, widely known as “Father Bill” when he served at Modesto’s St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, came down from his current university post in New Jersey. From Merced’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Rev. Jesus Reynaga was invited to the Mass on Wednesday. The delegation from the Fresno Diocese included the Rev. Dan Avila, director of vocations.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Visalia native Daniel Sepulveda, a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., who got a ticket from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, to see the pope Thursday. “Like most Catholics, I like him.”
On a semi-cloudy day that turned balmy with a touch of breeze, the crowds lined up early.
“Oh my gosh, who wouldn’t want to see the pope? He’s the people’s pope,” said Patty Hughes, a consultant from Riverbank. “I feel like I won the lottery.”
Hughes arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, part of what she called a “pilgrimage” with a 21st century twist. Hughes, for one, has been filing live updates on her experiences through her Twitter handle, @PattyandPope.
“What an experience!” Hughes said.
50 number of outdoor tickets each House office had to distribute for the pope’s visit
Still, for all the social media shine and high-security apparatus that surrounds it, the pilgrimage has featured traditional elements, including, not least, obstacles to overcome.
Sepulveda, for one, figured he’d have to reach the Metro rail station near his campus by 5 a.m. Thursday to secure a good place near the Capitol. Donna Roeck, a Riverbank resident who works as a manager at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, missed her 9:20 a.m. flight Tuesday out of San Francisco. She ended up wearily arriving in Washington at 11 p.m.
By Wednesday morning, though, Roeck was energized and readying herself for the Junipero Serra canonization. She knew the drill, at least in part. Last year, she was in Rome for the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII.
“It’s a thrill and blessing to be here for this historic event,” Roeck said.