When the pope’s Fiat finally arrived, church bells rang, priests stood on their chairs and Sam Giangreco glimpsed the pope’s cross at it bobbed above the crowd while the gentle old man walked in procession to begin Mass at Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University.
Once Pope Francis stood at the altar Wednesday, Giangreco, a Clarence native and priest-to-be at East Aurora’s Christ the King Seminary, got a good look at the white-robed man who changed how he thinks of his faith. He felt the tingle of goosebumps and said a quick prayer.
“Save us, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for this pope.”
As the pope said Mass in Spanish – a language Giangreco doesn’t speak – the seminarian grew so tired he fought to keep his eyes open and commit what he saw from his front row seat to memory.
Francis seemed wiped out, too, as he leaned and turned an ear to listen to the bishop beside him.
To get to this Mass with about 25,000 others, Giangreco and other seminarians from East Aurora took a bus the day before and waited in the sweltering sun for two hours to clear security.
Once on the campus grounds, it was a relief to find that the school had food and drink for everyone.
“It was kind of like a fair,” he said. “It was exhausting and yet exhilarating.”
He also noticed how priests and bishops around him were as excited as he was to be in the presence of the man known for his unconventional human approach and doing things like washing the feet of prisoners, women and Muslims.
“We’re supposed to be serving everybody, prisoners and any religion,” Giangreco said. “That really pushed my boundaries.”
At 28, Giangreco has spent the last seven years studying at the seminary. With just a year before he becomes a priest, the trip to Washington taught him something about savoring the journey and learning from “now instead of anticipating the next moment.”
“This pope is like a superstar,” Giangreco said. “He really does bring a freshnesss I think we’ve been waiting for for a long time.”