Seeing Pope Francis, attending the World Meeting of Families, and witnessing the canonization of St. Junipero Serra, was the experience of a lifetime for several individuals from the diocese.

Father Scott Chemino

Father Scott Chemino, vicar general for the diocese, traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend Pope Francis’ visit and the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra on Sept. 23.

Father said that Washington was very crowded and that it took considerable maneuvering to attend the Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“We could not get the taxi any closer to the event than Trinity College, about eight blocks from the basilica.  Police security was everywhere,” said Father Chemino.

“I tried to visit the Dominican House and Theological College where I had lived while attending seminary, but no one was being admitted to the properties because the Secret Service had already closed the area since it was so close to the Holy Father’s planned route for the Mass.

“The Mass was held on the east side entrance to the shrine.  The area surrounding the altar was so well designed and prepared for the pope’s arrival and Mass.  Most of all, I will remember how fine the music was throughout the celebration,” he continued.

“The Catholic University choirs and orchestra combined with the shrine choirs making the liturgy spectacular.”

Fr. Chemino said he wanted to attend the canonization because in 1977 he visited the Mission Carmel in California where Junipero Serra lived and died.  The saint is buried in the mission.

Father spoke of kneeling at his grave, asking that Serra intercede in the hope that Chemino would one day become a priest.

“My prayer was answered and I have never forgotten Junipero Serra for that reason,” said Chemino.

Two local couples

Almost a year ago, the organizers of the World Meeting of Families, invited every diocese in the U.S. to select two married couples to send to the WMF conference in Philadelphia.

Representing the Diocese of Alexandria were Lynn Ray, coordinator of Campus Ministry, and her husband, Greg; and Laura Gaspar de Alba, director of Hispanic Ministry, and her husband Fernando.

The two couples attended the 5-day conference in Philadelphia and had special seating to see the Pope when he said the final Mass at the end of his trip.

“It was a wonderful, spiritual conference for me AND for my family,” said Laura.  Laura and Fernando’s 16-year-old son, Evan, who is a junior at Menard, also attended the conference with his parents.

Throughout the conference, the common thread at the root of every breakout session, was the Book of Genesis, both Laura and Lynn agreed.

“Every talk started out with Adam and Eve and the first married couple,” said Lynn.  “God saw that Man was alone in the world, so he made a Woman for him.  God told them to be fruitful and multiply.  This is, and always will be, God’s Divine Plan.”

“I especially enjoyed the talk about Marriage, Parenting, and Procreation,” said Laura.  “It’s important to have God and Our Lady present in the home.”

Laura said she brought some Family Prayer Cards (in Spanish) from the conference to give to the Hispanic families in her ministry.

In addition to attending the conference, Lynn and two other chaperones – Chris Riche and Terri Blaisdell – brought 10 students from LSU-A and two students from Louisiana College to Philadelphia to see the pope.

“The student group arrived in Philadelphia near the end of the WMF,” said Lynn.  “They came primarily to see Pope Francis.”

A highlight of the Philadelphia meeting was the Knotted Grotto centered around a painting of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots – a favorite devotion of Pope Francis.  The grotto was a place where visitors could write their prayer intentions on a ribbon.  Before tying their ribbon to to grotto, visitors were told to “untie” or “undo” the ribbon of someone else, pray for that prayer intention, and tie both intentions back on the grotto.  The idea behind this was that you can’t always undo your own knots in your lives; sometimes you need the support of others.

When Pope Francis was enroute to the final Mass on Sunday, he stopped at the Knotted Grotto, blessed all the prayer intentions, an spent a few moments in prayer to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

“It was a beautiful thing to see the prayer intentions of so many in one place,” said Laura.  “People from all parts of the world wrote their intentions in their own language.  I wrote mine in Spanish; the one I untied and prayed for was in English.”

Another highlight of the conference was the WMF mural.  Artist Cesar Viveros, a Philadelphia muralist, designed a paint-by-numbers mural on 153 panels measuring 5 feet by 5 feet.

Participants at the conference had the opportunity to paint a section of the mural.  The number of participants who contributed to the painting reached more than 2,263 – enough to break the Guiness Book of World Records for the most contributors to a painting.

Lynn and her husband Greg (as well as the students and the Gaspar de Alba family) all contributed to the painting, but Lynn’s contribution eventually gained extraordinary status.

“Pope Francis signed the mural on the blue flower that I painted,” she said.  “I feel such a special blessing from that.”

On the final day of the Mass where Pope Francis would be celebrating, Lynn and her husband and the student group were up at 4:00 a.m. to make their way up to their spot for the Mass at 4:00 p.m.

“By starting out at 4:00 a.m., we didn’t have much trouble making it through traffic and clearing security.  We made it to our spot inside the Mass area by 6:00 a.m. – and waited for the next 10 hours, standing up, for the 4:00 p.m. Mass.

The student group went to a different area and waited too, but they didn’t seem to mind.

“The students said they enjoyed visiting with other students from all over the world,” said Lynn.  “They didn’t seem to mind the wait at all.”

By mid-morning, the wait to get through security was 4-5 hours.  But, according to Lynn, knowing that every bag, every single person who entered had been thoroughly checked, made her feels afe.

Despite the special seating, neither Laura nor Lynn and their husbands were close enough to see the pope celebrate Mass.

“We watched the whole thing on the Jumbotron – which is what probably most of the people at home saw.

“But the spirit and excitement of the faithful, – at one time and in one place – was overwhelming,” said Lynn.  “I’ve never felt more proud to be Catholic!”

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