North Texans cheered Pope Francis all across Washington Wednesday, braving long lines and security for a glimpse of the pontiff in the popemobile, at Mass or on the Jumbotrons during a festive and spiritual day.
Paola Quintero-Araújo of Euless and a group of five fans of the pope from Denton County arrived at the security gates in front of the Washington Monument just before 6 a.m. to get in place for the “Pope Parade” more than four hours later.
“Everybody started pulling together,” said Quintero-Araújo, director of Faith Formation for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. When an elderly woman next to them became overcome by heat, the crowd, by then pressed against the fencing, passed water bottles to help. Quintero-Araújo, who became a U.S. citizen last year, even met someone from her small town in Colombia who knew her family.
It was a community that built just then and there. That’s what the church is.
Paola Quintero-Araújo, speaking of the crowd that came to watch the pope’s parade
The North Texas group was able to watch the pope’s arrival at the White House on a Jumbotron and listen to his speech on the South Lawn just a short distance away.
“What I really liked was the unity,” said Jeannette Houle of Pilot Point. “When we started praying the rosary, random people joined and we were praying in Spanish and English.”
When the pope finally appeared, waving from the popemobile – a Jeep Wrangler converted to let him stand and be seen – the crowd started chanting “Fran-cis, Fran-cis” and waved its flags. Besides T-shirts and posters, some of the most popular of the “pope swag” sold by street vendors was the yellow-and-white flag of Vatican City with the papal emblem.
The excitement was palpable. “That’s what we came for; we came to be inspired,” said Quintero-Araújo.
The crowd included large numbers of the faithful from Spanish-speaking countries attracted by the Argentinian-born Pope Francis, the first Latin American leader of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition to the papal flags, the bright colors of those from Argentina and Mexico were also popular.
Lisette Moreno, 31, of Dallas, lined up at the Ellipse at 9 the night before the parade to get a good view.
“It was very emotional,” she said of having the pope go by right in front of her. A “DREAMer” – someone brought as a child to the U.S. illegally and who hopes to remain – Moreno will also see the pope Thursday in the House of Representatives chamber as a guest of Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, when the pope speaks at a joint session of Congress.
“I’m very close to my faith,” said Moreno.
Was the all-night wait worth it? “Yes. I take this as a personal privilege.”
Heather Reynolds, CEO and president of Catholic Charities of the Fort Worth Diocese, was at the White House event and then at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the canonization Mass of Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, who founded nine missions in California in the 18th century.
Asked what she had felt during the South Lawn ceremony, Reynolds said, “The energy. I think just the energy, it was exciting to be a part of.”
“To hear words from him was inspirational,” said Reynolds, “the way he talks about the poor, the immigrant, the vulnerable, families. It’s such a beautiful thing.”
Reynolds said she was surprised to see former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich seated near her and ran over to get a photo with him. Gingrich is a convert to Catholicism.
Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson attended a papal speech to over 300 bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle before celebrating the Mass with the pope and other bishops at the basilica.
The pope, speaking in Italian, said, “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor. It has no place in his heart. Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
Said Bishop Olson: “I felt wonderfully energized and joyful and renewed for our local mission of the Diocese of Fort Worth.”
Antonio Naim of Mission in South Texas said after the parade, “This pope is very different from other popes. He’s a simple man. He doesn’t care about class differences. To him we’re all equal.”