Looking back on last week, I still cannot express my thoughts and feelings adequately. Words simply fall short. Not only did I get the chance to join hoards of people at the Papal Parade on Wednesday, but by complete grace, I also found myself standing among the crowd at the Capitol on Thursday morning listening to his inspiring, wise, and truly life-giving address to Congress. All I can say is how lucky I am. God is Good! (All the time). After sharing the tales of the two days of papal festivities, my dad simply said to me, “I wish I had you on video, so you could hear the excitement and joy the way I just heard it from you.” My presence there made the Pope’s visit real for my family and friends who could not be there, and to think of all the people our Holy Father reached through that very same chain of thought and connection is so very powerful. Joyful, surreal, beautiful, holy, special, life-giving…the list of words goes on, none of which seem to capture the sentiment of those two days. I know that in months, and years from now, I will look back and still think, My God, I was so lucky. While the early mornings, the incessant standing, and the extremely high emotional arousals left me physically tired, my soul felt rejuvenated. And while I just may have been playing the naïve, idealistic, faithful 22 year old, I think DC as a whole felt a little different following the Papa’s departure.
A special reflection from last week comes from the experience at the parade. The roommates, the Cleveland volunteers, Margaret and I were beyond blessed to have the opportunity to serve as volunteers with the Archdiocese of DC at the Papal Parade. Our main goal of the day consisted of being “Carriers of Joy,” to simply “Share the Joy,” promoting and living out the slogan “Walk with Francis.” And sharing in the JOY is exactly how that day felt. We woke up at 3:30 that morning to prepare to greet the many-and I repeat MANY-eager, Pope Francis-loving parade-goers. Some of these people, amazingly, arrived to stake out spots before we even found our volunteer locations. Adorned in bright yellow shirts-seemingly symbolic of the light Pope Francis emits to the world- we handed out stickers and Pope Francis cards and allowed for photo-ops with a huge banner as people passed by. While we were expected to be greeting the people, I often felt as though I was greeted by them. Their joy and excitement became my joy and excitement. Through the faces of these diverse people, I witnessed how very easy it is to make a small but meaningful impact. In those long hours of the morning, I felt as though I was on the Papa’s team, working alongside him-I liked to joke that we served as his ‘away’ team. Clearly though, all a part of Team Joy.
That day at the parade I received many gifts, but I wish to share two. First, the reminder that what fills us most in this life is communion with others. I will never forget the moment Pope Francis rode by on his Pope mobile, waving and beaming at all of us, because never have I felt such unity with complete strangers. All of us, if only for a moment, forgot ourselves as we focused on a true figure of love, compassion and wisdom. For now in my mind and heart, that moment will represent a glimpse of what shared eternal joy may be like someday. Secondly, the reality that the act of giving ourselves to others is when and where joy is found. Pope Francis knows this very well, and my fellow Cap Corps members and I have committed a year of our lives to seek this truth. However, many of us first saw volunteering merely as an opportunity to see the Pope, to get off work and join others in the frenzied hype of his arrival. That mindset quickly changed as we began encountering the people. Feeling blessed to not only be one of many coming to observe the Pope’s radiance, but to also have the privilege to actually help spread that joy put the whole day into perspective. Pope Francis calls us to encounter each other, selflessly and delightfully, and volunteering that crazy blissful day reminded me just how contagious and true that reality is for us all.