Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

The Fragrance of Francis: How Will We Be Different Because He Came to America?

by | Oct 9, 2015

Is it just me or did your angst for the world and its many woes melt away for six glorious days while Pope Francis walked among us on American soil? His message of God’s enduring love, mercy and concern for each one of us, and especially for the least among us, left me more hopeful because the Creator of the universe believes in us, in our capabilities and in our efforts, no matter our failings or weaknesses.

A group of Ignatian Volunteers in service at the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra

A group of Ignatian Volunteers in service at the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra

More than forty regional Ignatian Volunteers, who had the privilege of serving at the Papal Mass for the Canonization of Junípero Serra at the Basilica on September 23, also felt these hope-filled possibilities that Pope Francis cast upon thousands of the faithful. One of our volunteers practically leapt off her couch when she heard Pope Francis allude to Ignatian Volunteers in his speech to the Joint Members of Congress:

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land.

What follows are some reflections of our Ignatian Volunteers from this blessed day, so public and yet so intensely personal:

…a fourteen hour day filled with more than fourteen billion wonderful faith-filled moments.  I loved being in the day, in all the moments of wonder and waiting and in the awe of what we all believe.  A line from last evening’s hymn helps define the day for me, “While I breathe I pray”.  Everyone, from the calm security staff, to the as excited as me college students to the wonderfully serious Franciscan priest who guided our duties as communion escorts, everyone was living, breathing and believing – together.  Thank you, IVC, for giving me the chance to breathe and pray with you.

                   ~Wynne Tysdal, Fairfax, VA

…The whole day was so grand, so all-inclusive, so full of blessings!  Talk about a Day to Remember!

                 ~Mary Frances Moriarty, Falls Church, VA

…As a volunteer for the basilica gift shop, the day was a perfect blend of excitement and exhaustion. Beginning the day at 8am and finishing at 10:30pm, a lot had to be done and a lot was done, but what an honor to essentially be working for Pope Francis while he literally graced us with his presence. Viva La Papa and God Bless America.

               ~Harris (Grandson of Mary Frances Moriarty)

…I was struck by the joy — of the crowd, so buoyant I felt at times we were levitating.  I was struck by the patience and peace — of the

Joanie Coolidge and Volunteers at the Basilica before the Mass

Joanie Coolidge and Volunteers at the Basilica before the Mass

religious folk training the lay (whose questions were abundant) in our duties.   I was struck by the kindness — of the people giving support to the volunteers (food and drink from sun-up to 8pm when we finally departed).  I was struck by the faithfulness — you could hear a pin drop among 26,000 during the Eucharistic feast. Such goodness and love in the energy of everyone I encountered — it felt like heaven. God’s spirit was palpable.  Thank you, Pope Francis!

                ~Jean Noon, Alexandria, VA 

…Yes, it was a wonderful day in Francis’ neighborhood.  All of my photos were fuzzy because I was shaking too much.  

              ~Larry Pemberton, Dale City, VA

..My first and abiding impression of Wednesday’s event, which I will carry with me always, was the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit.  It was a Mass honoring a new Saint but for me it was much more.  It was the confirmation of the viability and vitality of a faith community of beauty, joy and intense belief.  I was forcefully struck by the intensity of devotion and commitment radiating from the faces of the crowd and especially from those receiving communion.  It took my breath away.  There was a palpable certainty of God’s presence and love that I had never experienced before – and that I never, ever want to lose. I am blessed that my IVC background over the past decade gave me the foundation to be fully receptive to this unique experience. 

                ~Joe Jones, Silver Spring, MD.

Pope Francis greets the crowd inside the Basilica before beginning the outdoor Mass.

Pope Francis greets the crowd inside the Basilica before beginning the outdoor Mass.

…When I first saw Pope Francis, from the apse of the Basilica as he ascended the steps toward the altar, I was so moved I had to hold on to a rope pole to maintain my balance. I know this man was selected to lead our Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, and his words–and especially his actions–since becoming Pope have led me to a much deeper faith. I love him and I know he loves me.

              ~Austin Acocella, Burke, VA

…It was wonderful to be personally involved with this once in a lifetime blessed event.  We thank IVC for this intimate opportunity to support the Pope’s visit. We were stationed inside the Basilica and excited by the joyful roar of the religious and laity as the Pope entered before Mass. We were rewarded with a good view of His Holiness as he paused to acknowledge the assembly. It was special being part of the IVC team during the events preceding the Mass, and supporting the distribution of the Eucharist at the Mass itself which was truly an honor.  After Mass Cardinal Wuerl passed by and gave those of us present a hearty THANK YOU with outstretched arms. It was like a warm hug. 

             ~ Don and Patti Kisicki, Olney, MD

What a complete joy to be in the Pope’s presence.  It was a memory of a lifetime seeing him entering the Basilica & seeing the thrill of all the people..  Such a wonderful feeling of togetherness will always be a memory. The following day I was honored to attend a special mass at the Franciscan Monastery honoring the canonization of Junipero.  It was attended by so many joyful Spanish-speaking people who have a special love of this Saint.

              ~Jim Joyce, Washington, D.C.

Consecrated hosts in the Basilica Chapel, Ignatian Volunteers assisted priests and deacons with the distribution of Holy Communion.

Consecrated hosts in the Basilica Chapel – Ignatian Volunteers assisted priests and deacons with the distribution of Holy Communion to the over 25,000 people in attendance.

As for me, I found being in a room with 100+Deacons and 38,000 Consecrated Hosts deeply humbling. I am still soaking in this gift. I loved seeing the young college students jump on their chairs to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he passed, and the older priests doing the same a few seconds later. I admit that I jumped up on a chair too.

How will we be different having been visited by Pope Francis? That’s up to us. As the Apostle Paul affirms in 2 Corinthians 14-15, may Pope Francis’ aroma of Christ be ours. Pass it on.


Joanie Coolidge, Ph.D, serves as the Northern Virginia Regional Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and is Mom to three teenagers. Prior to joining the IVC she worked as an Adjunct Professor teaching in the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.