By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When Pope Francis’ plane landed at Joint Andrews Base, Maryland, a group of people of all ages watching the event on TV screens at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington seemed just as enthusiastic as those on the tarmac.
With loud cheers and rapid smartphone picture-taking, the crowd welcomed the pope’s first visit to the United States and they dispersed after the brief welcoming ceremony concluded. Some joined in prayer, others walked through the monastery’s gardens. Many in the group took photos by the cutout Pope Francis and some bought food from food trucks parked along the street. The atmosphere was both prayerful and akin to a parish picnic that also happened to have a lot of television reporters in the mix.
The monastery, tucked behind a Washington neighborhood, is a mile from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis would be celebrating Mass Sept. 23. The grounds are also linked to the papal Mass because it will include the canonization of one of their own: Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan who founded nine California missions. The monastery has a relic of the soon-to-be saint.
Pat Wells, a parishioner at nearby St. Anthony Parish, who came to the watch party with friends, said she was thrilled that the pope was in the United States. She wouldn’t be attending any of the events in Washington, but she was taking the next day off work to watch it all unfold on television.
"I can’t wait to see what he says to Congress," she added.
She also said she "wouldn’t be anywhere else" than keeping track of Pope Francis, stressing that he is a "direct successor" of St. Peter. Wells said she saw St. John Paul II and also Pope Benedict when they were in Washington.
Fernando Pereiro, who leads tours at the monastery, also was paying close attention to the pope’s arrival on the television screens. A native of Argentina, Pereiro said he rode the bus with the pope when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. The two didn’t talk on the regular city route, but he said he frequently saw the archbishop dressed in black clerical clothes.
Pereiro, who watched coverage of the announcement the former Argentine cardinal was the new Pope Francis on an Argentine TV station, said he was in tears when he heard who the new pontiff was.
Now, he finds it hard to believe the pope’s visit, so long anticipated, has finally arrived.
Above all, he said the pope "will bring a message of hope to all people."