Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Spokane seminarians encounter Pope Benedict: it ‘simply cannot get any better than this’
by Jeffrey Lewis, for the Inland Register
(From the May 1, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
The Diocese of Spokane was represented at the papal Mass in Washington, D.C., on April 17. Besides Bishop Skylstad, among those present were seminarians Jeff Core, Tyler Smedley, Jeff Lewis, Luta Nsubuga, and Deacon Matt Larsen (not pictured). The five seminarians all study at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Deacon Larsen helped distribute Communion at the papal Mass. Nsubuga was the book bearer for Pope Benedict during the vespers service with the U.S. bishops the evening of April 16. (IR photo courtesy of Jeff Lewis)
For a yearning priest-to-be (God willing), the first year of theological study simply cannot get any better than this: the pope himself, the Successor of Peter, was here in our very midst. And, indeed, it truly was an indescribable blessing to have been in the presence of our Holy Father.
The pope had come here to The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to visit both with our bishops and with our Catholic educators. For these visits, countless thousands of people had gathered – had been waiting for hours just for a mere 10-second glimpse of the pope as he drove by in the popemobile. That in itself was such a profound expression of the Catholic faith that so many people embrace: to set aside the entire day for just one fleeting moment of cheering for and waving at our chief shepherd.
Yet no matter how brief the glimpse, everyone was bursting with excitement: the Dominicans were leading the people in alternating prayers and cheers; the Missionaries of Charity could hardly keep still for longer than two consecutive seconds; children were running around and climbing trees to find the best vantage point for being the first to spot the pope’s arrival from afar. Some of the more popular chants that arose among the crowds were, “Christ our hope! Benedict our Pope!” and “We love you! We love you!”
Then came the part that many of us will never forget: our own private reception of his visit. When he arrived to address the Catholic educators, he saw us, smiled at us, and stared as if he didn’t quite know how to respond to our joyous ovation. Finally, he spoke: “So many, you must be so proud! And so beautiful and well-dressed!” Many of us shook his hand, bending to kiss his ring, including Spokane seminarian Tyler Smedley. I greeted him after his address as he was leaving. The Secret Service tried to keep the pope moving along, but he was patient with them and with us, and for my own part, I calmly, gently pushed through the Secret Service agent’s hand that was blocking me, reached for the pope, and clasped his hand as I said to him, “God bless you.”
Then, there was New York, and a group of us went there like the papal fanatics we are. It was this trip to see the pope at the Youth and Seminarian Rally that was to be my absolute favorite part of the entire experience. Some 25,000 seminarians and other youth gathered at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. Three soccer fields had become a papal mosh pit. And where was I? Not 20 feet from the stage where the pope addressed the Catholic youth of our nation.
His address to us was one of hope for the future that we represent, of joy for the enthusiastic display of faith and zeal that filled our hearts that day, of love for us and for the Church that continues to thrive even today despite every obstacle and set-back that could possibly hinder the Church’s mission. He expressed his profound hope that the youth, the future of the Church in America, would remain strong and united in faith, and truly, his was a joyful hope that was all too evident in every word that he spoke. Such was the power of his words that immediate cheer and applause erupted after nearly ever sentence he uttered, and the poor man could hardly even begin his address when he first arrived, almost overwhelmed by the chanted greetings. That this man of God could be so humbled was perhaps what I will always remember most clearly, even more clearly than every word he spoke and everything he did while he was here in our midst.