Being a Ph.D. student at the school, I was able to get a ticket to attend the service where the Pope canonized Catholic missionary Junipero Serra. My ticket arrived exactly on the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, so although I am in New York City, I was compelled to make it to the mass in Washington, D.C.
The thought of being haunted by my grandmother and her red-dyed permed hair was too much for me to say no. Taking a 4 a.m. bus from Port Authority, I arrived in D.C. at 9 a.m. and got to the campus at 10 a.m. – for a 4:15 p.m. mass.
It was a massive crowd, a Catholic Woodstock. Not one for protests or rallies, this was a big crowd for me. The largest “movement” I was ever a part of was game seven of the American League Championship series in 2003, when Aaron Boone of the Yankees broke the hearts of Red Sox fans everywhere – an event I consider spiritual as well.
When the Pope arrived in his little Fiat and the young crowd erupted, it was symbolic of something more than Catholicism or the structure of organized religion. Francis’ inclusionary message, regardless of what political parties want to claim for themselves, is important for society more than it is for politics.
We are living in a time when there is still a lot of unnecessary and unexplainable violence in the Middle East and, to a different extent, here in the United States. So it is good to see something different on the world stage for a change.
Here is a 78-year-old man in a gasoline-efficient smart car preaching peace. When Francis offered condolences and a prayer regarding the tragedy in Mecca last week, he showed the world what religion looks like when it goes the way we would like it to go. It is about peace, forgiveness and a little less judgment than the old playbook would suggest.
I sat for five hours next to woman who had rediscovered her faith after being estranged for years. There was a lot of that going around on Wednesday; there is a lot of that going around globally. This movement does not joust with people on Twitter; it survives on its own volition and the energy of being right.
There is a change in modern Catholic doctrine, but it could be useful to the country, regardless of faith. Moderation and pragmatism might also be a good approach to citizenship and, perhaps, politics.
I returned to New York that night by bus at 1 a.m. In the cab coming home, my driver, a Muslim from Gambia, said, “I like this Pope. I never had an opinion of the past Popes, but his message is good for people. It’s about peace.”