Vicki Cessna Reports: Spiritual Mount Olympus

Vicki Cessna Reports: Spiritual Mount Olympus September 27, 2015

Wow. Oh. Wow. Oh Wow.

So my feet haven’t quite touched the ground yet as I try and take in all awe and joy that I was honored to experience yesterday inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Vespers with the Holy Father. To be in his presence was an experience that words fail to fully convey.

But let me start from the beginning of the day for a little behind-the-scenes.

Trying to work on my selfie skills – looking “cool” for Secret Service

Media began to board buses at around Noon to allow enough time for getting through security. On the bus during the briefing overview of guidelines (what to do and not do during Vespers, etc.) was the stipulation to those media outside the Cathedral not to have any “throwable fruit.” It’s hard to imagine anyone would throw an orange or apple at Pope Francis but there you have it.

Once inside the Cathedral my group was stationed at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton side altar located about at the 50-yard line of the Cathedral. What a treat to watch such media pros in action  – some from international radio and newswire outlets. I felt best when I could provide some context to the liturgy or quickly pull up some resource for them. I was impressed by how quickly the radio pros were able to succinctly and crisply describe the atmosphere inside.

The church was filled to capacitIy with close to 2,500 people close to half of which were religious-sisters, brothers and priests.

For your amusement my attempt at behind the scenes video starring my big ‘ol face.

The feeling of anticipation was greater than being 6 years old on Christmas Eve hoping Santa brought me a Barbie Townhouse. I wanted to balance that feeling of being “on the job” with being “in the moment” and truly experiencing the powerful spiritual moment.

While Pope Francis was making his way in the air from Washington, D.C., inside the Cathedral our program began around 4 p.m. with beautiful music from the Cathedral Choir. Helping people to their seats were this very dashing ushers dressed to the nines with white gloves and tails. They are part of an official brotherhood of ushers that helps with special events (though I’m not sure of their official name).

Kicking off some of the “program” part of the event was Matt Lauer from NBC’s Today Show. He introduced Bishop Murphy who gave an overview of the significance of the papacy (did you know that 30 popes have been put to death?).  Others came up to give a brief history and meaning of Vespers.

Watching the mounted screens we could see the Popemobile making its way down 5th Avenue. As I mentioned earlier words fail to express the complete joy when Pope Francis walked through the magnificent Cathedral doors.

He first gave a blessing and I had it on good authority from a priest that whatever you may be carrying will be blessed. So I had in my pocket a very special rosary. This was the rosary that I had given to my dad to hold while he was dying and the one he wore until he passed into his eternal home.

Pope Francis gave his homily in Spanish but I had an English translation and they ran the translation on the large screens. Every word is gold but what I took away from his profound words were to try and do the following: count your blessings, don’t work so hard to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need and won’t make you happy and never forget to help all those who need it – the poor, the lonely, the immigrant, the refugee. But don’t take my word for it, read it yourself :).


Of course he gave a tremendous “shout out” to all religious sisters. Scanning the crowd I could see many of them beaming. And afterwards I spoke with a sister from Africa and she said, “it was a great moment for us–now we must go and be inspired even more.” Indeed!

Truly this was a surreal experience and I was still floating on air heading back to our hotel for our evening press briefing and meeting. Here’s a video I shot in Times Square:

Friday while Pope Francis is making his way around the city I’ll be behind the scenes helping media. More to come from Philly –

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