I should say at the outset that I am not fond of big crowds. I had planned to take in the Pope’s visit with television and media coverage online – plus, I did plan to go to one mass in Morelia with our seminarians – a smaller mass of perhaps 10,000 people for religious sisters and brothers, seminarians and priests. I also planned to take two guests to the basilica for the mass on Saturday February 13th and then meet them in the evening.
But that changed before sunrise on the 13th as we were making our way by taxi to the basilica. Someone sent me a message saying he had a ticket for me to attend the mass at the basilica. So, I stayed with our guests, walked them to their gates and then waited for the person with the ticket – all before the sun broke the horizon. The mass was not until 5 in the afternoon!
I ended up waiting a couple of hours more. I never did see the person who offered me the ticket. Instead, parishioners I know from where I celebrate mass on Sundays spotted me and gave me a spare ticket. I got in about 10:15. One of our two guests spotted me, and we were able to make plans for meeting after mass. We were also not able to connect with the other guest during the day. Her phone went dead and was incommunicado. (Thankfully we met up after mass where we said we would). I ended up sitting with the parishioners who gave me the ticket.
We watched the events of the morning on big screens near us. The sound system was good. However, after about 4.5 hours of sleep the previous night, I could not stay awake. I missed most of his talk to the bishops in the Cathedral as well (also on the big screen). At one point, there was a rousing applause from the people. For what, I am not sure. However, the next day reading the Globe & Mail online (a Canadian newspaper), I learned that he had been quite challenging in his remarks to them. He especially wanted them to be direct with each other – expressing their disagreements face to face, instead of trying to manipulate things behind the scenes. He also challenged them to stop trying to curry the favour of the rich and powerful in Mexico. Challenging words.
Then came the afternoon. Four hours of blistering sun and heat. I ate a couple of times, mostly thanks to the parishioners. One parishioner came with me to find shade where we stood for about 30 minutes. I had a hat, a hood and sun screen (from the parishioners), but the sun was brutal. As the time for the mass approached, various groups sang songs, tried to initiate a wave (not very successfully), and just sat waiting. The big screens showed a life of Francisco and some devotional videos. And then they started showing his arrival, driving along the streets nearby the Basilica.
He arrived in the Villa (the name for the grounds of Basilica) at about 4:30. The crowd was electric – clearly moved by his presence. Even just the few seconds of him driving by close to us seemed almost enough – they did all yell “otra vuelta” – another time around – but were not too disappointed when he did not. The mass started punctually at five and finished amazingly quickly by about 6:30.
I was not too deeply moved by this particular mass. The point I most remember was the importance of Juan Diego for the Pope, a figure who, as the Pope emphasized, shows how God works through the humble and forgotten of our world. I was more deeply affected by the mass in Morelia a few days later. Perhaps because his remarks were specifically tailored for us. However, before mass the organizers held a moment of silence for the 43 students in Guerrero, who went missing in September 2014 (The place where the students disappeared was only a couple of hours away). After about 30 seconds a section of the crowd started counting. Then we all did, stopping in unison at 43! It was a powerful moment.
What I most appreciated in the Pope’s remarks was his advice to us all, that we are not functionaries, simply doing a job. For him, the fact that Jesus was God’s son and that we are all God’s children means that we share God’s life. That is so much more than simply having a job – it is about life itself.
As with my time in the Basilica, I did not understand all of what the Pope said. But I understood much more, perhaps because I could see him about 40 or 50 yards away. Perhaps because it was a morning mass. I’m not sure. But, my take away from this experience is that he gets that he is a servant, a servant of the Church. He knows the Church of Mexico, he understands its struggles. He came to serve us – and that he did admirably.