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

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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.

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

  1. Jeanie Sweeney

    A Pastor sends his people out.
    My “takeaway” from Papa Francisco is to GO OUT.
    But just as we do our ministries WITH Christ and meet
    Christ in others who live on the margins,
    I have a greater awareness that I have the company
    Of Pope Frances, the company of the larger
    Community of the Church in this going out.
    We are not alone and the good news is that we go
    Out and remind others that they are not alone.

  2. john mcLaughlin

    While I was not physically present at any of the Pope’s stops in DC nevertheless simply seeing him on TV, hearing and listening to him when he spoke and watching him as he interacted with others made me feel as if I were physically present with him. He reflects a persona that is Jesus in a very real manner with his inclusiveness of all especially children, elderly, the infirm and the least of us. We were truly blessed to have him in the US for those lovely days. I hope we all learn from the Pope what the Gospel of Matthew 25 means and carry out its message in our lives. Thank you Pope Francis!

  3. Louise Sandberg

    I miss him. I missed him the moment he left. I saw him in Central Park. I felt the spirit all over the whole city. Now what? Love the elderly, youth, marginalized, and be servant leaders. Every day. Today.

  4. Oscar

    comment #57:Not knowing anytihng about your and your classmates’ schools, anytihng I might say about them would be speculation. Some Catholic schools did better with addressing the signs of the times. Others isolated themselves and created school cultures to fill the loss of ethnic Catholic enclaves, which I think were one of the main factors in reinforcing cultural Catholicism in the US until the second half of the 20th century.My grammar school, on the other hand, admitted non-Catholics in 1969. That led to my own baptism in 1970. Back in the 50 s when my parents wanted to adopt their baptized-Catholic foster child, the pledge to send her to Catholic school was deemed inadequate. The priest in charge of Catholic Charities insisted they convert to Catholicism, an impossibility because of their previous marriages. While some might say I would be a bad fruit of Vatican II, I stand in comparison to my parents’ would-be daughter, who ended up bouncing from Catholic home to Catholic home and the last time I chatted with her in 1983, was a born-again evangelical.In my experience, Vatican II opened the door to me to become a Catholic, enabled me to get a theological degree, and has allowed me to serve as a lay minister for a quarter-century. As a parish liturgist, I see the fruits of those who have engaged the Council and taken advantage of its opportunities. Clearly, people are alienated from post-conciliar Catholicism for a host of reasons, Humanae Vitae probably being the first of them. But sociological surveys in the 70 s did not show that people left in droves because of liturgy.As for today, I have a conservative priest friend who adopts George Weigel as his mentor for Sunday preaching. Not even the document his own bishops produced last year. Go figure.I woud love to sit down with other liturgists and clergy and even Pope Francis/Cardinal O’Malley to get to the bottom of why Catholicism isn’t doing as well as we could be in the US. I probably have more questions than ideas. But from the trenches, I’ve seen a lot in the past 25-40 years. I’m inclined to think we’ve been too timid rather than too rash.


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