I walk with Francis.
One month after the Rev. Michael Nacius traveled to Washington to witness Pope Francis’ trip to the United States, those words are still resonating for him, both as an affirmation of faith and as a message that we must live “generous lives” in our day-to-day dealings with others.
During a “whirlwind” 48-hour trip to the nation’s capital, Nacius, the pastor of Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic Church in Flossmoor, attended three events where the pope was present.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I was so fortunate to be there and to see the level of energy and enthusiasm that Francis brings to our world, and to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”
Nacius said he will always remember those 48 hours and the pope’s message that we are all on a journey together and must work every day to make our world a better place.
“Since I returned, our parishioners and other people have been so happy that I was able to see Francis, and to bring back this story,” he said. “They are so proud that I can relate his message about how we can better live together.”
Nacius has a number of souvenirs from his trip to see Pope Francis: small U.S. and papal flags that were waved during ceremonies; tickets to the White House reception, canonization, and Capitol address; multiple photos and cards bearing the “I walk with Francis” slogan.
Most of all, he has memories of two very busy days.
He arrived in Washington on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 22, and amid all the excitement, tried to get a little sleep. At 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he met U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), who had invited him to the White House ceremony. They have been friends for years; she formerly worked for the Village of Matteson when he was pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole Catholic Church.
“We worked on lots of projects together,” he said.
Kelly and Nacius met on the street corner outside his hotel and they headed to the White House where, at 7 a.m., they cleared security in about 15 minutes. The reception for the pope was to begin at 9 a.m. on the South Lawn of the White House. Nacius said he walked through a corridor of the White House to get outside but that was his only experience inside the Executive Mansion.
About 15,000 people were on hand when President Obama and Pope Francis arrived in the White House Rose Garden. The president gave a beautiful tribute to the Catholic religion, Nacius said, followed by a moving address by the pope.
“The energy was electric,” Nacius said. He snapped several photos, both with a small camera and with his phone. He is a tall man and a number of people asked him to take photos of the president and pope with their phones and cameras. “I am something of a human selfie stick,” he joked.
Later on Wednesday, Nacius went to the canonization mass for Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who established a series of missions in California in the late 1700s. It took place on the steps of the basilica at the Catholic University of America. The pope officiated at the ceremony, Nacius said, and “dozens of cardinals and hundreds of bishops” also took part. It was the first canonization ever to occur on U.S. soil and was attended by about 25,000 people, many of whom were priests and nuns.
Nacius was also on hand for Pope Francis’s address to Congress on Thursday. He was outside the U.S. Capitol during the address and watched the pope’s speech – which largely focused on the need to take care of the less fortunate – on a large screen that had been erected for the event.
He said he will always be grateful for having had the chance to see the pope in Washington.
“If I don’t say enough prayers of gratitude, it will be one of my biggest faults,” he said.
IJP’s pastor left on his annual week-long retreat a few days after returning to Flossmoor. He had scheduled his week of prayer and contemplation months before learning he would be going to Washington and it may just be a coincidence that his retreat took him to Carmel, Calif., where Father Junipero Serra founded his final mission, and is buried.
Nacius is certain, though, that divine intervention was involved.
“It’s through the beauty of God that, after attending Father Serra’s canonization, I was able to make my retreat at a place where he had lived and worked,” he said.