Catholic University Plays Host to the Pope
By John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
When Pope Francis came to campus on September 23 to celebrate the canonization Mass of Junípero Serra from the East Portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, it was a historic occasion for many reasons. It was the first canonization to take place on U.S. soil. It was the first Mass Pope Francis celebrated in the United States, during his first apostolic visit to the United States. It was the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States in his life. For those of us who attended the Mass, it was a day we will never forget. In this commemorative book we would like to share with you reflections from the day of the visit and stories of the people and planning that made it possible.
Pope Francis announced his intention to visit the United States in November 2014. I was attending an international colloquium on the family in Rome, and Pope Francis joined us to offer welcoming remarks. “I wish to confirm,” he announced to the gathering, “that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.” It was immediately evident who the Americans in the room were. We cheered the loudest.
Since his election in 2013 Pope Francis has captivated the world — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — with his simplicity, colorful turns of phrase, and moving examples of love. To have the Holy Father visit the United States meant an opportunity to share our lives with him, to share our history and culture, our virtues and our failings with the shepherd of the universal Church.
Then in January, on a return flight from the Philippines, Pope Francis announced his intention to go to New York during his visit to the United States to address the United Nations. He also announced his plans to visit Washington, D.C., to canonize Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The planning for the Mass began immediately. A visit to the Basilica meant, in effect, a visit to The Catholic University of America. The University worked closely with the Archdiocese of Washington, the Basilica staff, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to welcome Pope Francis to Washington, D.C., and to our campus.
Our faculty, staff, and students enthusiastically placed their scholarship and skill at the service of the Church to prepare for the Holy Father’s visit. The CUA Chamber Choir and the University Symphony Orchestra were among the musicians who performed during the Mass. Leo Nestor, Justine Bayard Ward Professor and director of choral studies and the Institute of Sacred Music, composed original music for the Mass. Students from our School of Architecture and Planning designed the magnificent altar furnishings. In the months leading up to the visit, Catholic University faculty and students received hundreds of interview requests on Pope Francis, his teachings, and his visit to the United States. On the day of the Mass, 429 Catholic University students worked as volunteers to ensure the day was a success.
The first announcement of the Holy Father’s arrival was the roar of the crowd on Michigan Avenue. The popemobile made its way past Gibbons Hall, travelling along the perimeter of the University Mall. To see the Holy Father in such a familiar environment, surrounded by familiar faces from the Catholic University community, was surreal. Pope Francis travelled along the same path our students take every day on their way to the library and our seniors walk at graduation.
At the same time, it seemed perfectly fitting that the Holy Father should visit our University, and that this moment in the history of the Church in the United States should take place on our campus. The Catholic University of America is the national university of the Church in the United States. It was founded to make a thoroughly Catholic contribution to the American project and to serve the Church in an American way. The Holy Father’s visit was a powerful reminder of this.
On September 23 Pope Francis offered us a challenge at the conclusion of his homily: “Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” Catholic University is taking up this challenge. We are studying the Holy Father’s teachings on the family, a human ecology, and a humane economy in the classroom. And we are putting those teachings into practice in the world. The Holy Father has challenged us to recommit ourselves to our founding mission. I hope you will join us.