By Maria Archangelo
The Essex Reporter
Two days after the Very Rev. Stephen Hornat participated in a Catholic Mass with Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., the superior general of the Society of St. Edmund was still feeling the glow of the pontiff’s message of hope.
Hornat, who leads the Edmudite order from his office on the campus of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, former superior general the Rev. Michael Cronogue and Edmundite seminarian Brother Michael Carter flew down to the nation’s capital last Wednesday morning, went straight to Catholic University to join the pope at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and flew back Wednesday night.
Hornat, a Connecticut native and 1972 St. Michael’s graduate, concelebrated Mass with the pope. (That means he recited the canon with the pope during the Eucharist portion of the Mass). In all there were 300 bishops and 1,100 priests in attendance, along with superiors of other North American religious communities. Hornat said he and the others underwent an extensive security-check process to get tickets to be present in the basilica for the Junipero Serra canonization Mass.
Once at the basilica, Hornat said everyone had to wait for a long time in the hot sun to get past the several levels of security. It was challenging.
“But once you got inside, all was forgotten,” he said.
While the orchestra and choir were magnificent, he said, it was Pope Francis who “electrified” the crowd.
“He walks the walk and talks the talk,” said Hornat. “He is sensitive to the people who are at the margins of society.”
During the event at Catholic University, Pope Francis visited privately with the descendants of Native Americans who were converted to Catholicism by Father Junipero Serra in 18th-century California.
Pope Francis is known for this kind of interaction — stopping his motorcade to bless people in wheelchairs, calling for babies to be brought to him so he can kiss them and say a prayer, meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests to apologize and ask for forgiveness, and spending time with prisoners in a Philadelphia jail to urge them to have hope.
The pope — a Jesuit priest — shares this message of mercy and social mission with the priests of the Edmundite order. The order, founded by priests in France, came to the U.S. in the 1930s to work in Selma, Ala., on issues of racial justice. The order still runs churches in Selma, Tuskegee and Montgomery.
Later, the Edmundites took their missionary work to the barrios of Venezuela — yet another connection to the current pope, who speaks about how his work with the poor in Argentina has informed his ideas about economic and environmental justice.
For Hornat, these factors combine to make Pope Francis the right religious leader for our time.
“He comes at a time in which the world needs hope,” Hornat said. “There is so much division.”
But Hornat says he is heartened by the fact that the pope’s message has been so well received.
On Friday night, for example, St. Michael’s hosted a group from Vermont Interfaith Action who wanted to get together to celebrate the pope’s visit and his message of inclusion. That kind of interfaith event is just what the world needs, Hornat said.
Ever since he got back from Washington, Hornat says everyone wants to know if he got to shake the pope’s hand.
“I didn’t shake his hand,” Hornat said. “But I touched his heart and his heart touched me.”