Alex Cranstoun took these photos at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. of the set-up for the outdoor Mass with Pope Francis on Sept. 24 at which Blessed Junipero Serra will be canonized. Photos: Alex Cranstoun.
Editor's note: Pope Francis is the fourth pope to come to the U.S. and the third to visit The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Alexander Cranstoun, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Parish in Covington and a first-year theology and religious studies student at the university, was selected as an aide to the pope while in the nation's capital. Cranstoun offers this reflection on historic visit, which includes the first canonization on U.S. soil and the first time a pope speaks before a joint session of Congress.
Most everyone loves Pope Francis, but why is this [visit] so spectacular? The people of Catholic University and D.C. have been preparing for this visit for months. People are very, very excited.
We have T-shirts that say "Power to the Papal" and "Walk with Francis" and "#PopeInDC", but what is the point? The point is love.
Pope Francis' main message in his visit to the United States and Cuba is to perpetuate the message of the Gospels of love, peace, and mercy. People see that and they see the true Catholic Church, one who embraces all of its faults and yet sees it as the one Body of Christ.
In his very first interview, the Holy Father said the most accurate description of him is that he is a sinner. Pope Francis doesn't differ from our other pontiffs in this sense, but it is his willingness to embrace it that brings so many back to the church. Many people are convinced, me included, that Pope Francis is one of the most influential people of the 21st century.
He personally reaches out to those on the outskirts of society and challenges them, in the spirit of St. Ignatius (who founded the Jesuit order, which Pope Francis belongs to) to find Christ in all things. Christ is in the struggles of each day — the teacher who gave you a failing grade, the student who won't shut up in class, the nature which surrounds us, and yes, he is even in the person who cut you off in traffic.
This isn't new for our popes; in fact, Pope John Paul II forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him, because he saw the person of Christ within the man. But Pope Francis' Ignatian background goes beyond forgiveness. He has opted to minimize the pomp and circumstance of the papacy and has decided instead to focus on the people who he can be a positive influence on.
What most people don't understand is that Pope Francis is not changing any hard doctrine of the church, but instead changing the discipline and perceptions of the church.
This message of love, hope, and mercy that the Holy Father wishes to share with us is one which we are called to share with our neighbors. Let us go forth, and as we pray for our Holy Father's safe visit to our country, may we be a beacon of these messages to our friends and family as our Holy Father is to us.
But may we not forget the reasoning behind our church and Pope Francis' visit, which is Christ our king, for whose greater glory we should do everything.
This commentary has been edited for space and content.