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October 12, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 25

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photo: Sister Agatha, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Joseph's Home in Richmond, greets Pope Francis during his visit to the Little Sisters' home in Washington after he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The sisters did not know of the Holy Father's visit until just a few hours before he arrived.

Sister Agatha, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Joseph's Home in Richmond, greets Pope Francis during his visit to the Little Sisters' home in Washington after he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The sisters did not know of the Holy Father's visit until just a few hours before he arrived.

Local Reflections on The Pope’s Visit

Of the many people from the Diocese of Richmond who traveled to Washington to see and hear Pope Francis, the only one who was known to personally shake his hand and hear him speak in a small group setting was Mother Marie Edward, superior of St. Joseph's Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond.

She did so at the home of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Harewood Road in Northeast Washington, a few blocks from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where he celebrated Mass on Sept. 23.

“It was just so awesome to see that of all the places he could have gone to visit, this spiritual leader and our Roman Pontiff chose our humble dwelling place to visit,” Mother Marie Edward told The Catholic Virginian. Pope Francis visited the home about 4:45 p.m. that Wednesday, after celebrating the canonization Mass for Father Junipero Serra.

“We were 30 sisters, including four novices and a postulant,” she explained. “The Holy Father went to each sister and shook their hand. I kissed his ring. “Pope Francis thanked us for taking care of the forgotten of society,” Mother Marie Edward continued. “He told us ‘You give them the love, the dignity and respect they deserve.’”

Mother Marie Edward had learned two days earlier from Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Clare of the Little Sisters in Baltimore that she had four tickets for the Richmond sisters to have seats at the canonization Mass. The sisters had learned just before the Mass began that the Holy Father wanted to meet with them after Mass in the chapel of their home near the Basilica. They had already cleared security and taken their seats.

“The Secret Service agents told us that we would have to leave then so we could get through the blockade because of the intense security,” Mother Marie Edward said. “It was an eight-minute walk to get back to the home.”

The four Richmond Little Sisters had left Richmond the previous day and spent the night at the Washington home.

“Pope Francis said to us ‘Sisters, remember when it's your turn to die, it is Christ who will serve you at the table.’”

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo attended both the prayer service at St. Matthew's Cathedral for the American bishops and the canonization Mass at the Basilica. He was impressed with Pope Francis' simple gestures toward the many some in society often forget like those who are in prison and others with disabilities.

“He rejected a chance to eat lunch with papal donors and instead visited with men and women at a Catholic Charities homeless shelter, reminding him that Jesus was once homeless,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.

He also spoke about the pope's visit with victims of sexual abuse by clergy and how those responsible would be held accountable.

“I am deeply sorry,” Pope Francis told the victims. “God cries.”

More than 20 priests of the Diocese of Richmond attended the canonization Mass in Washington.

Father Kevin Segerblom, pastor of St. Anne's in Bristol, had a special reason for being at the papal Mass. The canonization of Father Serra was the main draw for him.

”I was born in Monterey, California and had read a second biography of Father Serra,” he told The Catholic Virginian, adding that Father Serra had established Catholic missions there.

“It was the first canonization Mass in the United States,” Father Segerblom said.

Asked about any difficulties in getting through security from the Secret Service, Father Segerblom said it took about two hours, much of it under a hot sun.

“Everyone was peaceful about it and no one seemed upset,” he said.

Father Joseph Wamala, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Staunton, had traveled to Washington with three other international priests leaving from Staunton early in the morning Sept. 23.

“It was a wonderful experience, indeed,” he said. “I was surprised getting off the Metro stop (Brookland Station) and seeing all the long lines to get through security which we endured for two hours.”

It was a warm day with full sun and the priests briefly felt a sense of relief when they went inside the Basilica to get a chasuble for Mass.

“Then we went to take our seats in the place designated for priests,” Father Wamala said. “We waited an hour and a half for the Pope to arrive.”

There was much excitement among the crowd with the Holy Father's arrival which they saw on a jumbo screen.

Father Mark White, pastor of St. Andrew's and St. Gerard's, both in Roanoke, is a native Washingtonian who returned for Pope Francis’ Mass in the nation's capital.

“The most powerful thing about it was during the moments of silence when it was absolutely still,” Father White said, pointing out that normally the heavy volume of traffic at the intersection of 4th Street and Michigan Avenue in Northeast Washington would bring a lot of noise.

“The singing of the Litany of the Saints during the canonization was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard,” he said.

Thelma Robinson, a long time parishioner of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, was invited to hear Pope Francis' address to Congress.

Mrs. Robinson, a retired teacher with the Richmond public schools, had received the invitation — and a ticket — from Maurice Henderson, a former student at Randolph School where she taught. A graduate from Tufts University, he is now an engineer with NASA.

She was fortunate enough to be in the front row outside of the Capitol because she had a rollator allowing her to be up front with others who had disabilities. The rollator also provided a seat as she watched a jumbo screen.

“I just put all my illnesses aside and decided I would go,” Mrs. Robinson said.

“The thing that impressed me the most about the Pope were his eyes, his hands and his facial expressions,” Mrs. Robinson said, adding that he showed genuine joy when he'd see a baby.

Pope Francis' words seemed to resonate with the crowd which emphasized “You are my brother's keeper,” Mrs. Robinson said.

“It causes you to look inside and see if you measure up,” she said. “You are your own judge as to where you are in showing concern for others.”

“I'm just so grateful at this stage of my life that I was able to be there,” she added.

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