By Tanya Connor
The Lord, the pope and the people touched clergy from the Worcester Diocese who concelebrated or assisted at Masses with the Holy Father, and took leadership roles themselves.
Deacons and their wives also told of inspiration they gained from the Sept. 22-25 World Meeting of Families Congress in Philadelphia.
Father Juan D. Escudero, associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury, said the greatest gift for his June 2015 ordination would be to concelebrate Mass with the pope.
That’s what he told the Chancery in Washington, D.C., when seeking access to Pope Francis’ Sept. 23 Mass there, he said.
He wasn’t hearing back after applying online, he said. Discouraged, he told Patrick Seed, a St. Mary’s parishioner who had a ticket to the Sept. 23 Mass, to take lots of photos and share them with him. After that, Father Escudero said, he got the e-mail confirmation.
“I felt like the Lord heard my prayers … even when I was losing hope,” he said.
“I couldn’t hold my tears at the moment of the consecration, because I knew I was repeating the words said at the Last Supper,” he said. “I was repeating those words with the pope, who is Peter. I’ve been very, very blessed.
“After the Mass … I kissed the altar and I kissed the relics of Junipero Serra.” And went to the pope’s chair – but didn’t sit in it.
“I think the pope is a prophet among us,” Father Escudero said. “He knows that he’s not the main character in the picture. He knows that his message is about Jesus. And, being a prophet, he has the power to unite people. … He makes Christ alive among the people. When I saw people of all ages holding hands … sharing sunscreen with strangers … I could see Christ alive in the crowd. … A lot of … people who couldn’t even understand Spanish were full of joy because the pope was there.”
Bishop McManus concelebrated the Sept. 23 Mass with Pope Francis before going to Philadelphia to meet with Worcester Diocesan pilgrims. Allison LeDoux, director of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family, helped coordinate their trip.
The bishop said he thought he was celebrating Mass there just for them, but the Miraculous Medal Shrine where they met was almost filled. He said two Norwich diocesan priests concelebrated. He told about the pope’s D.C. visit and dined with Worcester’s pilgrims.
Mrs. LeDoux said her husband, Deacon John LeDoux, who serves at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Worcester, and Deacon Brian Gadbois, who serves at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in West Brookfield, assisted at the Mass. Deacon Gadbois had also come with his wife, Nissa, for the World Meeting of Families Congress.
“I felt like it gave me a renewal of hope,” Mrs. LeDoux said of the Congress. Speakers promoted marriage and family, where there is much brokeness, as society’s cornerstone, she said, adding that faith is what helps people get through and grow.
“When you’re trying to teach what the Church teaches, you don’t always have the feedback,” she said, but the Congress affirmed that her office is on the right track and increased the motivation to continue.
This was her first time to see a pope, she said, and spoke of the “roar of the crowd” as he approached in the popemobile. The glimpse was brief, but gave the sense, “Wow! He’s here! He’s real!”
Mrs. LeDoux said she was impressed by the media’s reaction; “they seemed moved by the way he portrayed Christ.”
“It was wonderful to be in communion with the Holy Father,” said Assumptionist Father Peter Omwoyo, who serves at St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge and concelebrated the Sept. 27 papal Mass in Philadelphia.
Deacon Peter Q. Nguyen, who serves at St. Peter Parish and St. Andrew the Apostle Mission in Worcester, assisted at that Mass.
He ran for an hour and fifteen minutes to get to a meeting for those involved in the Mass, he said. Blocked roads lengthened the trip from the half-hour walk it should have been.
“When I was running I was praying: ‘God, you have to lead me there; I don’t want to be late,’” he said, adding, “I feel like, if you desire to do something, God will help you.”
The deacons stayed inside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and watched the Mass on television, he said.
While waiting for Mass to start they were talking, and he suggested they pray, he said. They did afternoon prayer, then the rosary in English, Spanish, and Latin.
When the deacons took Communion to the people outside the cathedral, Deacon Nguyen said, he saw a couple from St. Peter’s in Worcester.
He said the other Vietnamese deacons from the Worcester Diocese were Deacon Van X. Nguyen, from St. John Parish in Worcester, and Deacon Quat Tran, from St. Peter Parish in Northbridge.
Deacon Peter Nguyen said Sister Nha Trang Nguyen, a Religious of the Assumption who formerly served in Worcester and is now with her community in Lansdale, Penn., arranged lodging for him and his wife, June, and family members.
The family he and his wife stayed with was very pious, and strengthened his faith even more than going to see the pope did, he said. (He saw Pope Francis in the popemobile Saturday.)
He said that, at the Congress, he found especially helpful a challenge by Cardinal Luís Antonio Tagle of Manila to be willing to heal even one’s enemy.
From making the trip he saw that there are many people who are hungry for spiritual guidance, but are sometimes confused about what is good, he said.
Deacon Gadbois said when he was at the cathedral for the Sept. 27 Mass he saw Pope Francis in the popemobile about 20 feet away.
The focus of the deacons at that Mass was to give Communion to people in a non-ticketed area outside the cathedral, he said. He said what made it so special was that those people did not expect to receive Communion.
After everyone receiving had come forward, he blessed children, and adults came up for blessings too, he said.
Asked what this papal experience was like he said, “Pride, knowing you’re involved – supporting his mission and showing people how important what he’s advocating is.”
He called the Congress a wonderful gathering focused on nurturing families, especially important today. It was good to see Pastor Rick Warren, a non-Catholic who authored “The Purpose Driven Life,” speaking with Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, he said. (Story on Page 7)
“The whole purpose of our going – we are working on starting a ministry to families,” giving talks and retreats to parishes, said Mrs. Gadbois. She said they want to reproduce on a smaller scale what was offered at the Congress.
She said one of the best things she received was “a fresh way of looking at evangelization” – evangelizing by how one lives. She said she got this from Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend of Pope Francis, who said that what the pope says is what he does. She said the rabbi said the pope doesn’t want him to convert, but to be a good Jew, which inspires the pope to be a better Christian.
“What that means for us,” Mrs. Gadbois said, “if we live our faith authentically, we get out of the way and let God do the converting.”
She said the best part of the papal visit, other than seeing the pope, was sensing that “we were all family,” with people coming from different places.
– To see photos and videos posted by local people who attended parts of the papal visit in Philadelphia, New York or Washington, D.C., visit and Like our page: www.Facebook.com/woopope. From your Twitter account you can also find local Tweets by searching for #woopope. (If you were there and you didn’t get a chance to post your pictures, there is still time to do so. Encourage your friends to look at the papal excitement online.)