September 25, 2015
In the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra, the founder of the California missions who brought the Gospel to the native peoples of the Pacific Coast, Pope Francis urged people to take up the saint’s motto: “Siempre adelante” – or “keep moving forward.”
It was a message that resonated with several of the seminarians of the Diocese of Nashville who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the canonization Mass on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
“He had a great homily,” said seminarian Andy Forsythe, who is studying at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. “We need to latch onto the cross and move forward. We don’t have time to look behind us.”
Forsythe was among at least a dozen Nashville seminarians who accepted the pope’s invitation to all the country’s seminarians and religious to attend the canonization Mass. Others who attended included: Dillon Barker, Rick Childress, Dustin Shane, Jackson DuBois, Quinn Robinson, Michael Cassman, Malachi Walker, Nunso Ohanaka and Jacob Lamoureux, all from the Josephinum; Deacon Daniel Steiner from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland; and Austin Whitehead from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
Barker and several of his classmates were on the road at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and arrived in Washington, D.C., by noon he said.
The seminarians were inside the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to receive a blessing from the pope before he celebrated the outdoor Mass on the grounds of the Shrine.
After receiving the papal blessing, the seminarians moved outside with the thousands of others for the Mass, Barker said.
Despite being hot and tired, “as soon as we saw the Popemobile come into view it seemed to me everything was worth it,” Barker said. The Mass was “beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”
“People were so overwhelmed with joy to see the Holy Father,” he said.
Watching the pope celebrate the Mass, Barker was thinking, “Here is a man who stands in a line that goes all the way back to Jesus Christ himself.”
Forsythe had similar thoughts. He previously had been to a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI, he said. “When I saw Pope Francis, I had the same feeling I had when I saw Pope Benedict. Cycling in my mind is, ‘This is the Vicar of Christ.’ That feeling of continuity is beautiful.”
The pope’s visit to the U.S. was one of historical significance, Forsythe noted. Pope Francis on Thursday became the first pope to speak to a joint meeting of Congress. On a personal note, it was the first time Forsythe had been able to attend a canonization Mass, after which he was able to venerate the relic of St. Junipero.
“That alone was kind of a once in a lifetime experience,” Forsythe said.
Pope Francis’ exhortations to meet people on the margins of society to proclaim the Gospel resonates with the seminarians.
When the pope said priests should be shepherds that have the smell of the sheep, “That really stuck with me,” Barker said. “Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that’s who we want to imitate. He leaves the 99 to find the lost sheep.”
Pope Francis’ popularity with Catholics and non-Catholics alike can open doors for evangelization, Forsythe said. “I’ve never heard more people talk about how they love the pope,” he said. “It makes it easier to say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about the faith.’”
Local Serrans enjoy canonization
The canonization Mass held special meaning not only for the seminarians but also for Middle Tennessee members of Serra International, an organization dedicated to promoting and supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“It was so fabulous,” Serra Club of Williamson County President Jerry Strebel said of the canonization Mass. “The pomp and the ceremony and all the planning that went into it … the pope being there. Just breathtaking.”
The attention the canonization is bringing to St. Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary who founded a string of California missions and converted thousands of native peoples, will benefit the organization named in the new saint’s honor, said Strebel, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Brentwood.
“I think it’s going to mean growth for the Serra Club,” Strebel said.
Strebel and his wife Trisha traveled to Washington with Elizabeth and Lloyd Crockett, who is a former president of Serra International. The Crocketts gave their tickets for the canonization Mass to the Strebels.
“It was an experience we probably will never have again,” Strebel said.