Nuns Tailgate, Bishops Mingle: Scenes from Canonization Mass - NBC Connecticut
2015 Papal Visit

2015 Papal Visit

Pope Francis' First U.S. Visit, Sept. 22-27

Nuns Tailgate, Bishops Mingle: Scenes from Canonization Mass

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    Pope Francis waved to a crowd outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he would canonize a new saint, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.

    It was a long wait in the sun, but crowds of the faithful were rapturous after Pope Francis performed a religious first at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday afternoon. 

    They saw the Pope celebrate Mass and canonize 18th-century priest Junipero Serra as a saint, the first such ceremony in North America.

    “It’s intoxicating in a way," said Beth Aman, a 24-year-old from D.C. who had graduated from nearby Catholic University. "You are surrounded by so much joy and kindness.”

    At the beginning of the Mass, she ran to see the Pope as he circled in the popemobile through the cheering crowd.

    “I didn’t think I was going to run and then I did,” she said. “He was too close not to run.”

    The wait to get inside had been long for many, as security screenings slowed the roughly 25,000 people expected on the church's grounds, causing a line to snake several blocks back. A few nuns were even seen tailgating at the Catholic University of America, near the Basilica.

    The scene was much more peaceful inside, on Basilica grounds. In a grassy area behind the rows of chairs, families and school children with standing-room tickets and Catholics sisters sat on the lawn and ate sandwiches. A banner of Serra hung from the side of the Basilica.

    Catherine Billion and her husband, Steve, a physician, traveled to Washington, D.C., from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, trusting that even without tickets they would see Francis. Outside the basilica, a stranger gave them two extra tickets that he had, Catherine Billion said.

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    A papal guard carried a small baby to Pope Francis, who was riding in his popemobile, so that the pontiff could kiss the baby.
    (Published Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015)

    "This is the Mother Church," she said, using a common nickname for the Basilica, the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States.

    "The fact that the Holy Father came to the Mother Church, that's what drew us. We want to be in his presence. We want to feel the Holy Spirit, which will be abounding today in a most powerful way," Billion said.

    Priests, bishops, and other clergymen greeted one another as they awaited Pope Francis' arrival.

    Rev. Ascencion Rea, a Catholic priest from Mexico City, called Francis a messenger from God. The Mass more than met his expectations, he said.

    "If you have God in your heart you will be able to resolve everything," he said.

    Pastor Vincent Guest participated in the Pope's afternoon Mass. He was on his way to pick up cream-colored robes he'd wear in the ceremony from a Catholic University building when he spoke to NBC Washington.

    “I think we’re all called to be a missionary to represent God in our own way," said Guest, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden, New Jersey.

    Top Photos From Pope Francis' U.S. VisitTop Photos From Pope Francis' U.S. Visit

    Everyone attending the Mass was given a 'goodie bag' with a program, various pamphlets, and a clear rain poncho in case of inclement weather. Some people in the grass were sitting on their ponchos as the grass was a little damp.