WASHINGTON D.C. – The largest Roman Catholic church in North America is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. Here, Pope Francis will celebrate his first public mass in the United States.
And from the stage – the Pope will have quite the vantage point.
There is much excitement in the air at the National Shrine as final preparations are underway for this much-awaited mass Wednesday afternoon. The seats are expected to be filled with 25,000 people who are eager to celebrate the Mass with the Pope, but the highlight is by the east portico of the Basilica where the Pope will celebrate the canonization mass for Blessed Junipero Serra.
Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said the faith of Filipino-Americans has been instrumental in sustaining the spiritual life of the Catholic Church in the United States. “They’re keeping our faith alive,” said Garcia. “I really love the Filipino people for that because of the devotion they have for the Blessed Mother, for example.”
Despite the tight security, the Balitang America team was given access to the main stage where final construction was being done and allowed as close as possible to the altar where Pope Francis will celebrate mass in Washington D.C. The altar table was designed by a student from Catholic University, as well as the chair where Pope Francis will be seated. According to the Vatican’s specifications, the chair should be simple and not ostentatious, a reflection of who Pope Francis has always been.
22-year old Matthew Hoffman is the architecture student who won the competition to design the altar. He had two weeks to complete his design and present it to a panel from the Archdiocese, which drew inspiration from the arches of the Basilica. “It’s not something that an architecture student fresh out of school gets to experience so my teammates find this special and we’re not going to forget this in a long long time,” shared Hoffman.
After the Papal mass, the altar table will be brought inside the Basilica where it will be used permanently. Pope Francis’ chair will be housed in the museum alongside the chairs used by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
The faithful have started descending upon the Basilica to offer prayers, or to simply take part in the Pope fever. The gift shop has also become popular to visitors eager to snap up souvenir items of the historic papal visit. Still, the most anticipated is Pope Francis’ message drawn from the theme of his apostolic journey – love is our mission.
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