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Papal Reflections | Joseph M. McShane, SJ, President of Fordham


Wednesday, September 23, 2015 | The White House, Washington, D.C.

I rose at 5 and was on line by 6:10. Although the ceremony did not begin till 9:15, the time flew by. How and why?

FRom the White House Lawn

From the White House Lawn.

The crowd was remarkably upbeat. In addition, I ran into many people whom I knew (which was quite a surprise).

The crowd was diverse and spirited—and very, very gracious. Not a cross word was said by anyone in spite of the long wait. When the President and the Pope finally appeared, the already-high spirits of the crowd really soared. The talks were brief but substantive. The President and the Pope are clearly very fond of one another.

I was deeply impressed with the talks that both President Obama and Pope Francis gave. I was even more impressed, however, by the images that will remain with me forever: the images of two principled men of prayer and peace standing side by side before the whole world, the image of two Americans bearing the weight of the world’s sorrows and hopes on their shoulders, the images of a remarkably diverse and hopeful crowd on the lawn of America’s house, the unforgettable sight of the sun rising on a beautiful early fall day over the City of Washington. Most of all, however, I came away with the sense that the President and the Pope have forged a close friendship, a friendship that gives hope to the whole world.

One of the most interesting encounters I had was with a woman who approached me at the end of the Pope’s remarks and asked me if he had blessed the crowd.

Thursday, September 24, 2015 | St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, N.Y.
Reflections on this evening’s Vespers Service at the Cathedral. Father Scirghi [Thomas Scirghi, SJ, associate

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

professor of theology and rector of the Jesuit community at Fordham] and I made our way to the Cathedral via Metro North. After making our way through the rather rigorous security check point, we were ushered into the Cathedral and found our way to our seats which were behind a massive pillar on the North Aisle. Alas.

During the three hours before the Pope’s arrival, we were treated to a concert, a lecture on the history of the Papacy, a short presentation on the history of the Cathedral, and the recitation of the rosary.

The recitation of the rosary ended at 6:25, at which time the television monitors in the Cathedral were turned on to keep us up to speed on the Pope’s procession down Fifth Avenue. As you might imagine, the mood in the Cathedral became electric as the Pope got closer. Finally, the great bronze doors at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Cathedral swung open, the organ swelled, the choir began to sing the anthems that signaled the Pope’s entrance.

Then, something rather strange happened: although the congregation initially burst into thunderous applause when the Pope began to make his way up the main aisle, the applause soon became muted. I was taken aback by the sudden change in the volume of the applause until I realized that people had taken out their cellphones to snap pictures of the Pope as he passed by.

When he reached the sanctuary, the applause swelled again. Then, the mood changed markedly as the Pope disappeared to vest for Vespers. Ah, the Catholic liturgical decorum reigned as the Pope led us through the opening rites of Vespers.

The Pope began his homily with a heartfelt prayer for the Muslim pilgrims who had died earlier that week in Saudi Arabia. In

Pope Francis

Pope Francis (courtesy of Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica.)

the body of his homily, he addressed himself to the priests and religious in the congregation. (As he did in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington yesterday, he offered his support to the bishops and the American Church for the pain that they (and we) had suffered as a result of the abuse scandals of the past decade.) The high point of his homily, however, was the praise that he heaped on the religious women whose hard work had built the American Church.

He was interrupted three times with thunderous applause when he spoke to and about the nuns. As I looked around the Cathedral, I could not help but be struck by the affection that the whole congregation had for these heroic women. I was also deeply moved to see many of the nuns around me crying for joy at the Pope’s words and the applause with which his words were greeted.

Following the conclusion of the Vesper Service, the Pope made his way slowly through the Cathedral, reaching out to the infirm, the young, and the many religious women in the congregation. Then he climbed into his Fiat and sped away.

The congestion dispersed quickly, but with great joy. For my part, I would have to say that I was deeply moved by his miraculous pastoral touch and the obvious love that he had/has for the Church, and the equally obvious love that the entire congregation had for him.

It was an experience of the Church at her best: inclusive, joyful, eager to embrace and transform the world in imitation of the Lord Himself.

Friday, September 25, 2015 | The United Nations, New York, N.Y.
Pope Paul VI was the first Pope to visit the United States and the first to address the General Assembly of the

Inside the UNited Nations

Inside the United Nations
L. to R. Joseph M. McShane, SJ, president of Fordham; Monsignor Hilary Franco, a member of the Papal Nuncio’s staff at the UN; and Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor-in- chief of La Civiltà Cattolica.

United Nations. He did so on Oct. 4, 1965, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I remember that day quite clearly for a number of reasons. First, my father (who was the SAC of New York for the State Department of the United States) served as the federal coordinator of security for the Pope’s visit. Second, I was honored to attend the Pope’s Mass in Yankee Stadium. Third, Paul VI’s address to the General Assembly captivated the world (and continues to be one that I find myself returning to quite often.) Finally, it was an unbelievably cold day, which made the pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium a particularly challenging one.

I guess that it was because my memories of that first papal visit to the United States and that first papal address to the General Assembly of the United Nations are so rich that I looked forward to today with such eager longing.

I rose at 4:45 and caught the 6:00 train to Grand Central. (I noticed that there was only one person awake in Campbell/Conley/Salice ‎at the time that I boarded the train for Manhattan.) When I arrived at the rendezvous spot to which I had been directed by the Nuncio’s staff, I was escorted to the United Nations and whisked through security. (The ease with which I made it through security is probably due to the fact that I was with Cardinal Turkson from both Ghana and the Roman Curia.)

After just a few minutes, I was led into the Assembly Chamber where I found myself in remarkable company:

Actor Daniel Craig awaits the Pope at the United Nations

Actor Daniel Craig awaits the Pope at the United Nations.

Daniel (007) Craig, Bill and Melinda Gates, Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Bratton, Cardinals Dolan, Turkson, and Parolin‎, two Apostolic Nuncios, the editor-in-chief of the Pope’s newspaper, and the Pope’s press secretary (both of the last two are Jesuits)—and what we were told was the largest of the leaders of states ever to attend the opening session of this General Assembly.

From the moment that the Pope first stepped foot on the UN campus, the television monitors on either side of the speaker’s podium kept us apprised of his progress toward the chamber. When he was finally escorted into the chamber, the entire crowd erupted into applause. (I noticed that the often-photographed Daniel Craig turned into an eager photographer as he snapped picture after picture of the Pope as he made his way to the front of the chamber. James Bond was not the only one taken with the Pope. Far from it. Heads of State whipped out their cellphones to capture the moment forever. And the press corps dropped all pretense of being blasé. They cheered, snapped, and stood on their tip toes with the abandon of Yankee fans—in a good year.)

When he was introduced and began to speak, Francis captivated everyone—from the most seasoned diplomat to the most fervent believer to the most wary critic. His address championed the poor and marginalized, pled for a complete ban on nuclear weapons, and wove together the themes that he wrote of so eloquently in Laudato Si. He was simply extraordinary in all he said. For my part, I was thrilled that he spoke about Paul VI’s visit to the UN 50 years ago, and even more thrilled that he made Paul’s words his own.

Then, it was over. The crowd rose to applaud him. (He was typically quite humble in acknowledging the adulation of the crowd.) And once again, cell phones were whipped out and put to good use to record the event for posterity. (I snapped more than a few myself.)

Friday, September 25, 2015 | Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
Mass in The Garden | A Home Run on a Basketball Court

The scene inside Madison Square Garden

The scene inside Madison Square Garden.

It took hours and something akin to the patience of Job to get into the Garden. (The lines ran all the way south to 23rd Street, down 23rd to 8th Avenue and all the way back up 8th to MSG, perched atop Penn Station.) Every bag, wallet, and belt worn or carried by the 20,000 worshipers was hand-checked.

Once inside, however, the mood of the congregation changed dramatically—and with good reason. The Garden had been transformed from arena to a peculiarly urban cathedral (New-York-style), with subdued lighting and liturgical furniture hand-crafted by local artisans. (The Garden didn’t disappear entirely, however: the concession stands remained open until an hour before Mass began, and the Archdiocese filled the three-to-four-hour period before Mass with a rich mixture of catechesis, entertainment by top-draw performers, and a bilingual recitation of the rosary.)

The long wait came to a close when the Pope arrived ahead of schedule. Once he arrived, he took two turns around the court in an indoor Popemobile. As you might imagine, the crowd roared when they spotted him. Once again, however, the initial applause and cheering eerily ended as people whipped out their cellphones to snap pictures of the Pope as he circled the floor.

Then, he disappeared and the mood turned liturgical-solemn. At least for a while. The opening hymn was properly festive; the readings were proclaimed with a quiet grace. And then Francis walked to the lectern to deliver his homily. He drew the congregation in with a combination of wisdom, humility, and a few savvy nods to the City and its moods and challenges and its quirky joys. The congregation fell under his pastoral spell and roared its loving approval as he preached. (He slyly looked up from his text. And he smiled. And that smile conquered the crowd.) Fortified by the crowd’s enthusiasm, the 78-year-old Pope grew stronger and more animated the longer he preached. Then came his capstone: the Pope assured the congregation that God lived in our City—with all of its challenges, its smogs and fogs, its joys, sorrows and moods (dark and light). That was all it took. The crowd very nearly swooned. They roared their loving approval of both the (papal) preacher and his consoling/challenging message. And the sedate urban cathedral once again became an arena—an arena of grace. What can I say? The soccer fan Pope from Argentina hit a home run on a basketball court (the world’s most famous basketball court at that).

As the Mass continued, the arena once again became New York’s new cathedral. With a nod to the universal

The scene inside Madison Square Garden

The scene inside Madison Square Garden.

nature of the Church, the Eucharistic prayer was said in Latin, and the Lord’s Prayer was chanted in Latin. A happy chaos reigned at the Kiss of Peace. Twenty thousand souls received Communion. Hymns both ancient and modern were sung with gusto or solemn decorum.

After Communion, Cardinal Dolan rose to thank the Pope for the graces of his visit. The crowd, however, was not going to let the Cardinal speak for them. They interrupted his address with a series of raucous (hey, it was a New York crowd) standing ovations. (I don’t think it would be wide of the mark to say that they were delirious with joy. And they were determined to let their Father in faith know just how much they loved him. It was also clear that they simply didn’t want their moment of grace to end, and that they simply didn’t want to let Francis go.) As for the Pope, it was clear that he was touched and energized by the loving rapport that he had established with his New York flock.

All good things, however, must come to an end. Before he dismissed the congregation, the Pope departed from the solemn cadences of the Roman Rite and looked directly at his brothers and sisters (or were they his sons and daughters) and asked all of them (us) to pray for him.

At that moment, we were all transported back to the scene that unfolded in St. Peter’s Square on the evening on which he was introduced to the world—and asked the vast crowd that had gathered when the white smoke appeared over the Sistine Chapel to pray for him. He need not worry. All who were in the urban cathedral known as MSG will pray for him, the Pope who hit a home run on a basketball court (and the most famous basketball court in the world at that).

I would imagine that the Knicks and the Rangers are jealous tonight. A soccer fan stole the spotlight in their home. And New York embraced a new star. And basked in the love of a Father who called his sons and daughters to live with a new sense of purpose.

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