by Julie Holthaus
ROME — The only thing better than witnessing the inauguration of Pope Francis as the 266th pontiff was being a part of it.
Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., scored a front-row view of the liturgy when he helped distribute the Eucharist to some of the tens of thousands who came to St. Peter’s Square for the March 19 Mass, held under crisp blue skies after days of rain.
It was all due to divine providence. Msgr. Mullen had booked a trip in January of this year to visit the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Unbeknown to him, Pope Benedict would resign in February, and a new pope would be installed during his visit.
“I was thrilled and very humbled,” said Msgr. Mullen. “This would never have crossed my mind to be able to do. It was more than I expected, and I am very grateful.”
Msgr. Mullen noted that Pope Francis is just how he appears, “waving to the crowd with a friendly smile, genuineness and warmth, and providing a great sense of leadership.”
“I believe Pope Francis’ election will foster vocations, especially to religious life, priestly life and sacramental marriage,” he said. “There is something very appealing about Pope Francis and his desire to imitate Christ, and I believe he will hit a responsive chord in the hearts of many youth.”
Pope Francis chose not to use the popemobile for the occasion, but was driven through the crowds in an open-topped SUV.
Agustin Martinez, an archdiocesan seminarian, witnessed the pope step out of the vehicle to bless a handicapped man. Pope Francis was also handed babies to kiss and bless in his tour through the crowds before the ceremony began.
“The most beautiful choir sang the Litany of the Saints, and the pallium was placed around Pope Francis,” recounted Msgr. Mullen. “The ring of the fisherman was then blessed and given to the pope, and finally Matthew 16:18-19 was read before Pope Francis opened the Mass.”
The woolen scarf, or pallium, recalls the sheep Jesus carried on his shoulders and symbolizes the pope’s status as a good shepherd of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The ring of the fisherman, which contains the seal of Pope Francis, is a reminder of Christ telling the fisherman Peter that he would now be a fisher of men.
Msgr. Mullen said the inauguration was very organized and reverent and, despite the presence of heads of state and representatives from 132 separate delegations, was not a showcase.
“There was a real sense of the real presence of Christ,” he said.
“I would hope that the heads of states with views not aligned with the faith . . . would see the joy of the faith and it will strike a chord,” added Msgr. Mullen.