MARYSVILLE — The Rev. Dwight Lewis will never forget the day he came face to face with a pope. He was 14 when Pope John Paul II visited his island home of Trinidad Tobago.
“We were walking the track and there he was right in front of me holding his crosier,” said Lewis, priest administrator of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marysville. Lewis recalled the pope telling young people to hold on to Jesus. “That became personal for me,” he said.
Thirty years after that 1985 encounter, the Marysville priest joyfully anticipates seeing Pope Francis. Next week, Lewis will lead about 30 members of his flock to New York and Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States.
Lewis has a bobblehead figure of Pope Francis on his desk, along with books about the man Vanity Fair magazine calls “the People’s Pontiff.” Since his election in 2013, the former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, has delighted the masses while shaking up the institution of the church. His emphasis is on love and service, not convention and protocol.
The Marysville priest is thrilled by a pope who chose not to live in the Papal Palace, who dared to raise the issues of contraception and sexual orientation early in his papacy, and who famously said, “Who am I to judge?”
“I love the pope,” Lewis wrote in his Sept. 6 message in the Marysville church’s bulletin. “He is a man influenced by love and God.”
Lewis joined members of St. Mary’s staff to talk about their journey to see Pope Francis. “We’re going on a shoestring budget,” said Sharon Larson, the church’s administrative assistant.
“He is very humble. We are so excited to go,” said Eva Wilson, another staff member making the trip, along with Deb Hart, Lori McCabe and a diverse group that includes an 85-year-old parishioner.
Pope Francis is scheduled to land Tuesday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. On Wednesday, the Marysville group will fly to New York, and later in the week will go by bus to Philadelphia. They don’t have tickets to big events, but plan to follow the crowds, seeing Pope Francis as public access allows.
Among the highlights of Pope Francis’ trip to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia are: a White House meeting, conferring of sainthood on 18th century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra, speeches to a joint session of Congress and the United Nations General Assembly, a service at the 9/11 Memorial, a Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and a visit to a Philadelphia prison.
“He wants to be with normal people,” McCabe said. “He’s just another man,” said Hart, as she looked at a picture of the future pope riding a bus.
“It’s an exciting moment for all Catholics,” said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle, which oversees Western Washington’s Catholic churches. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to focus on some of the issues he’s been raising with respect to the environment and the family.”
Michelle Fischer, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office for Youth and Young Adult Evangelization, said at least two other large groups from the region will travel to see the pope. One group will attend the World Meeting of Families. Fischer added that Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain will be among U.S. bishops and archbishops seeing the pope.
At Archbishop Murphy High School in south Everett, Deacon Dennis Kelly said students have been captivated by the messages of Pope Francis. “He’s talking in their language,” said Kelly, director of campus ministry.
The school’s theology teachers will talk about the pope’s visit. And Kelly will offer daily multimedia recaps of the pope’s visit.
Pope Francis embodies the values of compassion, love and faith taught at Murphy, Kelly said. “He resonates deeply with the Catholic students, and even some non-Catholic students. He speaks a language that feels like Jesus,” Kelly said.
The school has a big cutout figure of Pope Francis, he said, “and kids take selfies with him all the time.”
Like Lewis, Larson also saw Pope John Paul II. In 1984, she and her late mother were among some 200,000 people at the Abbotsford Airport in British Columbia, where Pope John Paul II celebrated an open-air Mass.
“My father had passed away and my mom had two tickets. Out of eight children, she chose me to go,” Larson said. “It was absolutely wonderful, one of the highlights in my life.”
Lewis believes people are drawn by Pope Francis’ focus on what the church stands for, rather than what it’s against.
“I am a lover of social justice, and he has become the pope we needed,” the priest said. “He is the real deal.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The visit of Pope Francis
Pope Francis will arrive at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday for his visit to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Schedule highlights are:
Wednesday: Meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, papal parade at National Mall, Junipero Serra canonization Mass.
Thursday: Speech to joint session of Congress, evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Friday: Address to United Nations General Assembly in New York, a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a motorcade through Central Park, Mass at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday Sept. 26: Mass at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit to Independence Mall, visit to Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway, prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families.
Sunday Sept. 27: Meeting with bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, visit to Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Mass for World Meeting of Families.