Located in the third row from the front of the altar, to the right of Pope Francis, Father Tom Elewaut felt “joyful, honored and privileged” to celebrate the Sept. 23 Canonization Mass of St. Junípero Serra in Washington, D.C.
And at the singing of the Gloria — soon after the relic of the newly canonized saint had been presented to the pope — Father Elewaut began to feel “overwhelming emotion.”
“I recalled why I was there — as a representative of the last mission founded by Serra,” said the pastor of San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura, the last of nine missions in California founded by Father Serra.
“I recalled all those whose petitions I had brought with me; I thought of the responsibility that we have, as a parish and as God’s people, through our link to St. Junípero Serra. That realization embraced and enveloped me and made me quite emotional.”
Father Elewaut was among close to 1,000 priests and bishops concelebrating the Canonization Mass, held outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Among the 25,000 people attending was Handmaid of the Triune God Sister Mary Rose Chinn, director of religious education at San Buenaventura Mission.
For Sister Chinn, emotion came most strongly during the canonization rite at the beginning of the Mass. “I’m not normally an emotional person,” she smiled. “But as the proclamation of Father Serra’s life was being read, I felt a real connection to him, to all the good work that he did. I thought of the universality of the church, the building blocks of faith that have come before us and will come after us, and how we are all part of that. And all of a sudden, these tears came that I didn’t expect.”
San Buenaventura Mission parishioners Fran and Diana Sparagna, who also attended the canonization, said their “high point” came during the Litany of Saints.
“When the names of the saints were being sung, and St. Junipero Serra was included, that hit me the most,” said Fran. “I really the felt the reality of his being canonized, and that really got me — to know that the founder of our parish is now in the Canon of Saints.”
The Sparagnas — attorneys and partners in their Reseda law firm (Sparagna & Sparagna), and former parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge — were amazed and delighted at the enthusiasm and warmth among the thousands attending from around the U.S.
“The atmosphere was like a Beatles concert,” smiled Diana. “So much spirit, so much excitement, and so much participation. Everyone sang, and the music — it was stunningly beautiful.”
Sister Chinn was delighted to connect with “so many sisters from around the U.S. This Mass brought together so many people from this side of the world, and that was a wonderful blessing.”
Likewise, Father Elewaut marvelled at the warm reception he and other visitors received in the nation’s Capitol. “People were so patient, polite, welcoming and enthusiastic, even in the adversity of standing in long lines and the heat,” he said.
From his vantage point, Father Elewaut said he had “a very good view” of the relic of Father Serra as it was presented by his friend Andrew Galvan, curator of Dolores Mission in San Francisco — the sixth mission founded by St. Serra — and a descendant of the Native peoples who were evangelized by the new saint.
“It was Andy’s cousin, Vincent Medina, who proclaimed the first reading of the Mass in the native Chochenyo language of the Ohlone people of Northern California,” the priest noted.
Father Elewaut could also see his Ventura neighbor Redstar, a member of the Chumash tribe, receive Communion and then be escorted to a waiting area where he and other Native American leaders would meet with Pope Francis after the Mass.
“Redstar is a graduate of our parish school [Holy Cross] and St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura,” said Father Elewaut. “So it was a joy to see and embrace him before the Mass began.”
There another “grace-filled” moment for Father Elewaut in Washington prior to the Sept. 23 Mass. On his way to the Capitol to pick up a ticket for a Sept. 24 reception hosted by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Oxnard), he encountered a woman who, seeing he was dressed in clerics, told him she was a Catholic aide for a U.S. Senator. She asked if he would like to visit Statuary Hall, and see the statue of St. Junípero Serra.
“Of course,” the priest replied.
Aided by the woman’s credential, they eventually were able to enter and walk to the same spot where Pope Francis viewed the statue the following day after his address to Congress.
’”We were able to say a prayer and take a photo before security told us we needed to leave,” smiled Father Elewaut. “That was a huge grace.”
On Sept. 24, after standing outside the Capitol to see Pope Francis address Congress and receive a brief greeting from the pope, Father Elewaut said he planned to return to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, to pray and view a stained glass window depicting St. Serra. He was scheduled to return home Sept. 25.