Choosing to enter the priesthood is not an easy decision to make, but it does have its perks, especially when the Pope comes to town.
Father Jason Wallace, Vice Rector of St. John Vianney Seminary, led a pilgrimage to Philadelphia with a group of 19 seminarians for Pope Francis’ visit at the World Meeting of Families, an experience that was characterized by overwhelming joy, abundant grace and hopeful unity. It marked a fruitful learning experience for the seminarians, who were taken aback by the generosity and kindness others extended toward them.
“There was genuine kindness everywhere you went,” Father Wallace said.
This trip marked the first time the seminarians had worn their clerics for an extended period of time, and Father Wallace said the experience was very powerful for them.
“They realized when you wear it, you’re actually just a walking billboard for Christ,” he said. “Everybody looks at you for the example to follow.”
Father Wallace said it was good for the seminarians to see how Pope Francis interacts with people and hear him speak about how priests have an obligation to be out with people and families instead of perpetuating a culture of separation between the clergy and the laity.
The whole experience reassured their missions and vocations.
“It was reinvigorating for myself and the seminarians,” Father Wallace said.
Their visit was largely coordinated by a friend of Father Wallace’s, who arranged everything from their pick-up at the airport to their stay at St. Patrick’s Parish in downtown Philadelphia. The pastor of St. Patrick’s, Father Daniel Mackle, was extremely kind, Father Wallace said, providing classrooms for the seminarians to stay in, buying breakfast for them and even giving them full access to the showers in the rectory.
Father Wallace and the seminarians weren’t able to get tickets to the Papal mass, but Father Mackle went out of his way to call around to the other rectories in the area and see if they had extra tickets to give prior to their visit. They only needed 20 tickets, but Father Mackle ended up gathering 40 tickets, giving Father Wallace 20 extra tickets to give out to others who weren’t able to get one.
In what Father Wallace described as a “grace moment,” he also discovered he could trade in the general public tickets he obtained for closer-up seated tickets, so he and the seminarians were able to be right up front, near the Holy Father, for the Papal mass.
The entire gathering was one of fellowship and joy, and Pope Francis was the common bond which tied everybody together. One of Father Wallace’s friends in attendance even likened it to a “Catholic Candyland.”
“It was nice to see everybody’s interaction and they joy that was radiating,” Father Wallace said. “It was just like living in a grace-filled moment.”
Father Wallace was impressed by the way in which Pope Francis conducted himself and the way he responded to people’s questions.
“His simplicity and his ability to speak to people on a very familiar basis…I think that affected a lot of people,” he said.
Many people, Catholics included, expected the Pope to be like a politician and express a solid stance on certain issues, but he never explicitly did so; rather, he answered questions through his own simple way, which is what struck Father Wallace the most, especially when it came to matters of the family.
“He didn’t have to come out and condemn one thing, he just came out exalting what he wanted to exalt,” Father Wallace said. “He spoke so highly of marriage between a man and a woman that it was just intuitive for people to say, ‘that’s what he stands for.’ He’s standing for what is good and true and beautiful.”