Weeks after visit, Pope Francis's message still moves Texas faithful

October 13, 2015

HOUSTON — During Pope Francis' visit to the United States for the 2015 World Meeting of Families (WMOF), from Sept. 22 to 27, a message of unity still resonates with those who attended and those who were able to stream his homilies and speeches online. Pope Francis's simple message that everyone matters and can contribute something to humanity has been the main takeaway for several attendees at WMOF.

The Texas Catholic Herald was able to interview several people who attended the WMOF and attendees were ecstatic to share their experiences and continue to preach Pope Francis's message of unity among families and the United States.

Jennifer Naaden, Echo Apprentice at St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church, attended events in Washington D.C. with several friends. The Echo Program at University of Notre Dame allows graduate students to better learn about catechetical ministry and leadership in the Church by working in a parish for two years which ultimately leads to a master's in theology. She is from a small town in North Dakota, but lived in Washington D.C. for four years before moving to Houston. Because Naaden was familiar with D.C., she was able to navigate the city well and go to events she hadn't anticipated. She was able to welcome the pope at Andrews Air Force Base, attended the Canonization Mass for Junípero Serra, the first saint to be canonized in the U.S., and she attended the Congressional Address.

"It's very surreal," Naaden said. "On the spiritual side, it was very peaceful and joyful. I asked myself a few times, ‘Why are crowds flocking to him? He's just a man.' Even the things he said are great, but he's just saying the Gospel message. It's more about how he's saying it and his presence. Even while people are screaming at him and trying to get his attention, he's so joyful and makes it seem like he's present to each individual person he makes eye contact with." 

Naaden found the homily at the Canonization Mass to be a special highlight. 

"The experience was very reverent even though there were so many people," she said. 

She said she was moved to tears, but "when you encounter holiness that touches the deepest parts of your heart, it's overwhelming."

"I remember thinking, ‘How do I live my life to have this honor?' Pope Francis talked about always moving forward with joy and love," she said. "Even in ministering to people, it's tiring but overall it's about being present to people in a joyful manner. I want to do that more authentically."

Naaden said that the pope spoke truth in a way that showed how we're all united. 

"You read about how Jesus was, but to see how Pope Francis lives it authentically and to hear your dignity is worth something — it's reallypowerful," she said. "In all of his addresses, he stresses how we're all one and said let's work together and embrace it. Pope Francis has that approach of speaking truth that's unitive."

She said that she still has a lot of thinking to do, but she knows the first step to move forward. 

"My main focus is trying to define it for myself as to what it means to be present for others so they feel love and mercy — not mine, but the Lord's."

Deacon Arturo Monterrubio, director of the Family Life Ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, attended the WMOF with his wife. He said it was great to see so many people united because they wanted to see Pope Francis. 

"I'm still trying to make sense of it," he said. "I went to the WMOF and I was fortunate to be there. The most impressive thing to me was the Mass on Sunday. Just seeing the procession was wonderful. It was made up of so many priests, bishops and cardinals. And the people? There were so many people. The universality of our Church was there for one common interest — family."

Although there were no chairs and people were sitting or lying on Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Papal Mass on Sunday, Deacon Monterrubio said it was amazing to be a part of it. 

"I had the honor to serve Holy Communion," he said. "What a wonderful gift. I enjoyed that a lot. It's hard to describe because even a picture obviously does not represent the whole experience. It was unique to hold the ciborium and see the faces of people waiting to receive Holy Communion. Many were crying because they were able to participate. To see the whole community outside was very impressive."

For Mass, about 250 deacons and 300 priests were split into groups to serve Communion efficiently. Deacon Monterrubio was about a mile away from Pope Francis at the altar. He said it was the first time he had listened to a pope in his own language, which made it even more special. 
Deacon Monterrubio attended the conferences with his wife as well. They had a divide-and-conquer mentality as he and his wife went to separate talks and would later discuss and share what each had learned. They both enjoyed being able to exchange ideas and talk with people during the sessions too. 

"It was special to see a lot of people talking about how important family was to them," he said. "We can do so many wonderful things to stay united. There is a lot to do in this regard. We have to continue working hard for families."

From the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life, five people traveled to the east coast for the events. Deacon Monterrubio said he would like for each person to share their experience during a presentation at the chancery. They will then collect the presentations and add them to the website to share with others. It will include information from keynote speakers and general observations from their experiences.
"This is something you cannot just keep for yourself," he said. "Those in the office who attended look forward to sharing their experience with the Archdiocese. The very simplicity of giving to your children and keeping your family united should be shared. Family is essential."

Sponsored by St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Jamie Williams, and her daughter

Veronica, were able to travel to see Pope Francis in both Washington, D.C., and in Philadelphia. They attended the Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra, the pope's address to the Joint Congress, the Festival of Families and the Papal Mass for the World Meeting of Families with parishioners Evelyn Wagner-Wright and Adrian Sloan. Father Edmund Nnadozie, MSP, was happy to help them make the trip on behalf of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. 

"Evelyn asked Father if anyone was going to see the pope," Jamie said. "When he said not yet, she got a group of us together. We went into this trip as pilgrims to honor the pope and to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We sort of walked with the pope too and followed him to each of the different sites."

The group arrived in Baltimore, Md., and stayed with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. Mother Mary Lange, who founded the Order, has a cause for canonization currently open. The sisters made meals for them and took care of them, which Jamie said was a pleasant and blessed surprise.

They went to Washington D.C. and later arrived in Philadelphia. While in Philadelphia, the women stayed with a host family pre-arranged by networking with the local Catholic Churches. Jamie said the trip felt very historical as the group learned a lot about our country's history, and she and Veronica felt blessed to be around so many other Catholics and Christians as other faith religions were present as well.
"There were different ages and ethnicities," Veronica said. "Everyone was there just being together to listen to what the pope had to say. He wants us to be accepting toward everyone. Being in high school, it's really hard to do that, but I've been sharing that with my friends and teachers, so I hope we can all be more accepting."

Williams said having the pope come to the U.S. to meet Americans where they are, physically and spiritually, was very special. 
"We may not have another opportunity to see a pope in our lifetime," she said. "Veronica might, but probably not the older adults. It was a very family-oriented atmosphere though. So many people were waiting hours and hours just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis. All spaces of society were represented."

While waiting to get in to the Canonization Mass, they just happened to be in line next to a group from Petra, Majorca, in Spain, where St. Junipero Serra, the saint being canonized, was from. During the Mass, Williams was impacted by the simplicity of the pope's homily.
"I felt he was making a point to say that we need to get back to the basics of the family," she said. "Treat people the way we like to be treated. He had so much with great compassion and said, ‘I want to have a dialogue with you.' He was not reprimanding. He just said ‘I want to talk with you.'"

Williams also remembered the importance that Pope Francis gave to the role of grandparents. 

"Veronica is my youngest and I have grandchildren," she said. "Pope Francis said that grandparents have a way of bringing families together and we should honor their wisdom. I want to continue to teach my grandchildren to say their prayers and to pass along the faith to them."
Matt Regitz, director of youth ministry at Prince of Peace Catholic Community, his two oldest children and his wife Stephanie had a unique experience while traveling to see Pope Francis. They were accompanied by a reporter from Fox 26 who documented their experience every step of the way. The Regitz family welcomed this opportunity and enjoyed experiencing the historical aspects of Philadelphia and the wisdom of the various sessions during the conferences. 

Regitz and his family were in Philadelphia from Tuesday to Sunday. Regitz said they learned a lot during the many sessions and while listening to the pope's speeches. They also were able to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.

"Many times Pope Francis spoke to the young Church — the teenagers," Regitz said. "Just a few days before, he told Cuban teens not to be afraid to dream. He also said that family is a factory of hope. I love that image. He's not calling families to perfection, but to work. We work at hope and it gave me permission as a dad not to be perfect. He was a little light-hearted and said that in families, there will be difficulties and children are headaches and plates will fly. Then he said, ‘I won't even mention mother-in-laws.' To hear a pope speak so plainly and be funny was great. It showed that amidst all of that and the difficulties there is still light."

Listening to the speeches with his sons, Athan and Becket, in mind, Regitz said it's important to show them how to commit to faith in their daily life. 

"I wanted my kids to realize that Church isn't just something we do on Sundays, but it's who we are," he said. "The Church just poured out on top of Philadelphia and the pope showed us how our faith can be relevant to our current situation and not an addition or extra credit. We have to realize that God has a place in the normalcy and it's open to everyone. You just have to have a heartbeat and openness to the Lord."
During the week, Regitz and his wife would attend sessions for adults while their boys attended the youth conference that had age-appropriate activities for them. 

"We would have lunch together and talk about things we did," he said. "One morning, we did a ton of Philadelphia historic stuff too. The things you read about in history books came to life. Our government was carved out to protect religious freedom, so I believe Philadelphia was not just a haphazard choice for this conference."

Regitz said it all came together for his family in the Franklin Institute on Thursday morning. They saw two exhibits at the Institute — a LEGO exhibit and a Vatican Museum exhibit. He said in the middle was a huge LEGO display of LEGO Vatican City made up of more than 100,000 LEGOs. 

"My kids thought it was the coolest thing," Regitz said. "It was perfect. We were experiencing our faith in the form of LEGOs. To bring my kids to see chalices from St. John Paul II and LEGOs in the same museum was incredible."

He also said the experience of seeing bishops in coffee shops and sisters walking down the street really allowed his family to soak up the interaction between faith and culture. 

"Traveling with a 6- and a 9-year old was a challenge," Regitz said. "If you think about all the elements, not to mention them having to manage their luggage, it was definitely a challenge to say the least. But our boys never complained. This was a pilgrimage for us and they were courageous pilgrims."

Athan and Becket also went to Philadelphia as ambassadors for their school, St. Anne Catholic School in Tomball. The family brought with them medals of St. Michael the Archangel, which weighed about 25 lbs., and the medals were blessed during a mass blessing by the pope. The boys were able to give the medals out to their classmates on the Feast Day of St. Michael. 

Regitz said the whole trip was really inspiring for him and his wife. After their two-year old passed away about nine years ago, they were apprehensive about leaving behind their two younger children for the WMOF. After working through their fear together, he said they were able to find the relieving sense that God hadn't left them behind and continue to heal together. 

"It was really great to come home to them after a trip like this," Regitz said. "To come home and realize that our family isn't perfect, but we're on the right track is really refreshing."

Brenda Banegas, member of the Encuentros de Promoción Juvenil Young Adult Movement, had tried two times to go to World Youth Day to see a pope. She said it was a very emotional and exciting to experience a visit of this nature. 

"I saw Pope Francis six times," Banegas said. "Every time I saw him or heard him, I felt like a little kid listening to their mom or dad. Even though he was probably tired, he looked at everyone with so much love."

Banegas traveled with a group of young adults who are a part of Encuentros de Promoción Juvenil, an international organization that brings together young adults. The movement has a Houston chapter that meets every Monday night. Banegas traveled with 16 members from Houston and they met up with about 40 members from other chapters all over the nation, including Phoenix, Dallas, Arkansas and California.

"It was a great bonding experience to do the trip together with friends you care about," she said. "There was so much diversity there. We talked about how everyone we talked to before the trip was so excited that we were going to see Pope Francis. Even my boss said to put in a good word for him with the pope. Catholic or not, everyone loves this person. He's an example for everyone."

A special highlight for Banegas was the speech on immigration at Independence Hall.

"The pope told us how everyone matters, we all have a reason to be here and we can all make a difference. We're all brothers and sisters no matter our race or religion. I hope to be able to share my experience with others through my testimony."

She and her friends also attended the Festival of Families on Saturday, which included music and dancing from around the world. 
"The festival was pretty awesome," she said. "Everybody had their flags out and we got to meet people from Canada and several other places. It was awesome to see all these people participate."

Although there were people from all over the world, Banegas said on Sunday, while waiting to go into Papal Mass, her group ended up standing right next to people that her friends knew. This made the long wait go by a bit more quickly, but Banegas said it was well worth it. 

"In the Mass, we were skeptical about being able to receive Holy Communion," she said. "Everything was so organized though and we felt so blessed that we were able to. Seeing everyone kneel even though there were rocks or sand was beautiful. Our group offered up intentions on behalf of people who had requested them before we left. It was a moment we united and prayed for everyone."

Banegas, who is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, enjoyed hearing Pope Francis talk about family and how we treat others.

"We really need to work on keeping our families together and to live the golden rule like he mentioned. I learned that I need to keep trying to be a better person and see Jesus in everyone. Not to judge people, but to love them the way they are. I want to try harder to see everyone with love and do it from the heart."

Although the event is over, millions around the United States are beginning to formulate plans for ways to better live out Pope Francis' message of love, unity, acceptance and family in their homes and parishes. All those who listened to a speech or attended an event are continuing to discover what it means to be together in this American culture and live as one nation under God.

A Digital Recap

For highlights from the WMOF, visit www.worldmeeting2015.org. To read about the Regitz family's experience, visit their blog at poppopetracker.wordpress.com. To watch video on demand of the papal visit, click here. To read the text of his addresses during his visit to the US, click here. For further information and other ways to participate, go to the U.S. Bishops website at usccb.org.