By NICHOLE GOLDEN AND GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writers | Published October 2, 2015
ATLANTA—A Georgetown University student from metro Atlanta and those whose work for the archdiocese drew them to Washington to witness the historic papal events were thoughtful and hopeful about what they heard.
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, saw Pope Francis at the White House Sept. 23, where he was welcomed in a very formal ceremony by President Barack Obama.
A three-hour wait for Mulcahy and his wife, Claudia, who went through necessary security at 6:15 a.m., was rewarded when the little black Fiat arrived at 9:15, bearing Pope Francis, waving.
“We were 10 feet away from him,” said Mulcahy, who represents the Catholic bishops of Georgia in legislative matters.
President Obama’s welcoming address for Pope Francis struck him.
“The president really was very effusive in his remarks. He seemed extraordinarily gracious,” Mulcahy said.
In his address, Pope Francis “covered most of the issues that are hot buttons” for those who are advocating for the positions of the U.S. bishops in the public square, including religious freedom and immigration.
“His comments on immigration I thought … got the longest and the most intense applause,” he said, adding, “That was going to be well received at the White House.”
“I thought he did about the right tenor with the whole thing. It was a pro-Francis crowd. There was nothing negative, no protests.”
As the events in Washington rapidly unfolded Sept. 23 and 24, including the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra, the address by Pope Francis to the U.S. Congress and his visit to a Catholic Charities shelter, Mulcahy said he reflected that it was important to emphasize the spiritual nature of everything the pope said and did.
“A lot of what he says in Washington is political, but I think you can’t lose sight of the fact that his role is spiritual,” Mulcahy said.
“Where he comes from is a point of spirituality and prayer. … I think if you miss the spiritual aspect of the pope, you miss the whole point. He is very astute in his politics, but he is not a politician.”
The four Americans he held up as inspirational in his talk to Congress were people who drew strength and vision for their difficult paths of action from prayer.
“From the political side, he has talked about all the issues we see as important. He has talked about life issues, the death penalty, he has talked about immigration for sure and certainly the basis of our whole Catholic social teaching, which is the dignity of the human life from conception to natural death,” he said.
However, he said, more than his words Pope Francis’ presence was impacting people everywhere.
“The flight attendant as we were getting on the plane said, ‘I am not Catholic, but I think he is so great.’ I heard that from cab drivers, too. We think he is great,” Mulcahy said. “It’s just his presence. … Most people are not going to read all of his speeches. Just his presence—that is so much of who he is.”
He listened while waiting to enter the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra to two college students who were coming to the Mass, all the while saying that Mass isn’t usually part of their week.
“Here are these girls, fairly typical college freshmen. (But) they wanted to get in to see the pope. He has that effect,” Mulcahy observed.
If there is a long-term effect from the pope’s address to Congress, he said, it will be because of “Catholic people who listened to what he said—not just for an affirmation of what I believe—but to make it part of our work, our prayer, our spirituality.”
Politicians won’t change until they see that people are changing, Mulcahy said.
“Catholic people who are able to change their own views on, say, immigration—that is going to filter up to Congress,” he said.
“His talks will be food for many things.”
‘Clearly a guy that walks the talk’
Vanessa Russell, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta, said Pope Francis sees Catholic Charities as the arm of the church that is bringing compassionate care to those in need. Visiting Catholic Charities in Washington and New York to meet with the homeless, the hungry and immigrants and refugees, the pope put a bright light on their work.
“He’s totally aware. He’s really heightening the work,” said Russell, who was able to attend papal events in Washington Sept. 23 at the White House and National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Then she flew home and hosted a watch party at the Atlanta Chancery for the pope’s speech to Congress the next day.
His homily at the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra at the shrine “was really amazing,” she said.
It was a homily that explored indifference and provided encouragement.
“Why are we apathetic? Why do we have apathy? We should every one of us be present in our lives,” said Russell.
She hopes the focus by the Holy Father on their ministry will help the public learn more about Catholic Charities.
“This is clearly a guy that walks the talk. His priorities are clear,” said Russell.
Georgetown student wins ticket to canonization Mass
Georgetown University sophomore Kyle Rinaudo was one of the lucky ones. He learned Sept. 22, the day before the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra, he would receive a ticket to attend.
Each parish in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was allotted a number of tickets for the Mass, as was the university. “Georgetown had 300 tickets,” said Rinaudo.
A Cobb County resident, Rinaudo explained that the names of each faculty member and student were placed into a lottery for the tickets.
The Jesuit priest who teaches Rinaudo’s theology class told the students that if any of their names should be drawn, not to worry about being absent from class.
“I missed three classes that day. The Mass was at 4:15. I was there around 11,” he said.
Security was tight with 25,000 people attending the Mass celebrated on the portico of the basilica. “They had TSA agents and the Secret Service was there,” he said about the security process before Mass.
“Everyone there got a little gift bag,” said Rinaudo, a parishioner of St. Clare of Assisi Church in Acworth and a North Cobb School for International Studies graduate.
The bags contained a Mass program, a map and poncho to weather any storm. The weather cooperated with a beautiful autumn day for those attending.
The Mass, said Rinaudo, reflected the church’s diversity as planned by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. The pope spoke in Spanish, and prayers of the faithful were in various languages.
“The first reading was from Isaiah, but in a Native American language,” said Rinaudo.
The Mass was the first canonization held on American soil. “How cool is that?” asked Rinaudo.
An international politics major, Rinaudo met a master’s program student from the university who has only been in the country for three weeks but whose name was drawn for the Mass. He also sat near the university’s Orthodox Christian chaplain, Father Constantine White.
While Georgetown is a Catholic university, formed and run by the Jesuits, the institution works hard to be inclusive and welcoming to all, like the Holy Father.
“That’s the unique thing about Pope Francis. His message speaks to all,” said Rinaudo.
It was wonderful to be close to the pope and hear his voice and words, he noted.
Rinaudo said he thought of one priest’s comments following the Mass—that it’s been inspiring, “but now it’s time to put it into action.”