Maureen Pratt

Maureen Pratt

Unpacking and then arriving home from a long trip can be very unpleasant. Waiting at home are dirty laundry, stacks of unopened mail, a resentful pet, dying plants. Welcome home.

I have been home nearly three days and have yet to completely unpack from my trip to Washington where I attended a canonization Mass for Spanish missionary Junipero Serra and soaked up the sights and sounds of a city welcoming Pope Francis and other visitors from around the world.

Physically, I have begun to settle back into home. But, emotionally and spiritually, I have a feeling I will still be “unpacking” the experience of a lifetime for a long time.

First, there was the obvious incredible opportunity of attending the Mass and the added blessing of being in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception when Pope Francis entered. The cheers and shouts of seminarians and novices gave me a tremendous sense that vocations today are filled with energy, enthusiasm and joy — qualities that I plan to continue to pray over as we move further away from that electric moment.


The canonization itself stays in my mind as a simple yet moving rite that was especially poignant because I had researched and written so much about St. Junipero leading up to that moment. I had spoken with a few of those connected with the ceremony and was right there in heart with them as they presented St. Junipero and his complex, inspirational life.

Many humorous moments punctuated my time in Washington. For example, several times, I saw life-sized cutouts of Pope Francis. The one that seemed most lifelike was in the crypt of the shrine. I couldn’t resist taking a picture. However, I passed on the bobblehead dolls, replicas of the papal mitre and a (very expensive) model of the popemobile.

I am slowly reviewing the photos I took during my trip and gradually gifting the things I purchased for others. But I am unpacking most slowly the memory of being among a thousand fellow Catholics, other Christians and some people who do not profess belonging to any organized religion. Snatches of conversation are bubbling around in my thoughts like clear, freshly aerated water:

“It’s a great time to be Catholic.”

“I feel like this is a new chapter in my spirituality.”

“I haven’t been to church in years, but now …”

“Maybe we can talk about moral issues more openly.”

“This pope expresses exactly what the world needs, what I need, now.”

I visited dear friends in Washington, a city I know well. I also made new friends, forged in the joy and enthusiasm of the time. Their voices and the spirit of a vibrant, renewed fellowship will, I think, remain in my heart and head for some time to come.

It is the prize souvenir from a wonderful vacation that is meant to be ever at hand and in heart, not merely unpacked and stowed away.