The week of September 21st through the 28th was a week of blessings for all of us who traveled from our Diocese to Washington D.C., and Philadelphia to be with Pope Francis. For all who were able to go, I would certainly characterize it as a week of pilgrimage, because it was a journey filled with prayer, reflections community at Mass for all who went to accompany our Holy Father in his first apostolic journey to the United States.
For me personally, it began with reflecting once again on the excitement that I felt back in 1979 when so many of us in the seminary made our way to Chicago to Grant Park to be present when Pope John Paul II was in his first journey to the United States as well. The excitement, enthusiasm and good will of that time became a reality for me again, and for all who traveled.
From that Monday morning at John Wayne Airport, through Dallas Fort Worth Airport, and with the flight attendants and personnel of American Airlines, all commented to me with great interest and happiness about the Holy Father’s visit. The days in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia flew by.
For the Bishops it was many mornings up very early (4:30 AM) to have breakfast and then get ready for what was called a “Security Sweep.”
It was a blessing to have Father James Nieblas SDB, of St. John Bosco High School in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as the representative of the Native Americans at Mission San Juan Capistrano to meet the Holy Father.
I thank the staff members of the Orange County Register, Deepah and Mindy who went with us to Washington. I think of the families from all over the world who were present at the World Meeting of Families, and gave a truly international perspective of the blessings and struggles of families in the lives of husbands, wives, children and extended families.
Our seminarians from the Diocese of Orange (about 39 of the 44) participated in many events of the World Meeting of Families and in the Papal Liturgies. All total, there were probably over 1,000 from Orange County present, and I thank the many members of the Neocatechumenal Way who were made the pilgrimage. Some could not be with us, even though having made the journey, because they could not get through the security. The presence of the Neocatechumenal way communities was very evident in the joy preceding and during the pilgrimage Mass held at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Philadelphia.
The reflections and homilies of the Holy Father at all of the locations were historic and their influence and teaching will be reflected on in the days and weeks to come. From the fraternal care which was evident to the Bishops, to the Abraham Lincoln’s podium which he used at Independence hall, to his words to the Bishops from around the world at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to his homily at the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families are moments we will all remember.
I was grateful to spend time with many of the U.S. Bishops, a number of whom I was in school with in Rome years ago. I was also very happy to meet a Bishop from the Congo who is a very good friend of mine, whom I know through the Focolare movement.
Finally, in the context of this pilgrimage, amid the joy, reflection and prayer of those days, there were what I could call clear instances of the Providence of God and “miracles” where the Lord at an unsuspecting moment, showed his presence to folks who came along. I think, as well, in the end of the Holy Father’s words in English, “do not forget to pray for me.” He has asked me that personally several times, and in the days following this pilgrimage, let us do just that, pray for him, especially in this month of October during the Synod of Bishops.
God bless you and thank you for all.
–The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange