Thumbs Up for Francis • Monitor photographer Craig Pittelli captured Rev. Mr. Richard Osborn, a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Trenton, giving the “thumbs-up” as he and fellow seminarians await the arrival of Pope Francis to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 26.
Thumbs Up for Francis • Monitor photographer Craig Pittelli captured Rev. Mr. Richard Osborn, a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Trenton, giving the “thumbs-up” as he and fellow seminarians await the arrival of Pope Francis to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., Sept. 26.

By Brittany Wilson | Social Media Coordinator

As Pope Francis stepped out of his black Fiat Sept. 26 amid cheers of “Viva il Papa!” outside of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Wynnewood, Pa., months of preparation came to fruition.

Weeks of practices, cleaning and security measures was finally behind the roughly 150 men who attend the seminary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as they welcomed their most-esteemed guest.

“As the days were building up [to Pope Francis’ arrival], you felt the energy around you change. It was very energetic, very positive,” said first-year seminarian James Harmon, from the Diocese of Trenton. “People who are more on the quiet side, you saw more excitement in them.”

The seminarians, including Harmon and five others from the Diocese, gathered in rows on the seminary’s front steps and greeted the windblown Pope. The seminary, home to Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap, hosted the Holy Father on Saturday night as he concluded his six-day pastoral trip to the United States.

“What struck me most was that it was totally real. Here he is, the Vicar of Christ, before us,” said Harmon, whose home parish is St. Justin the Martyr, Toms River. “So many people go to Rome to see him, and here he was at our home at St. Charles. It was a very humbling experience — very powerful.”

Second-year seminarian Brennen McCoy, of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, echoed Harmon.

“You hear about the Pope and sometimes just think of him as a figure. You sometimes forget that he’s a real person — but there he was,” McCoy said. “I was overjoyed. I was elated [when Pope Francis arrived]. I wasn’t expecting to feel the way I did. I just kind of lost all control and I think everyone else around me did, too.”

The cheers and applause were so enthusiastic that the seminarians had to be quieted as the Holy Father climbed the stairs. The men then broke into song, chanting “Salve Regina” (“Hail, Holy Queen.”)

“It was great to look around and see how overjoyed people were,” said McCoy, who is a member of the seminary’s choir.

At Pope Francis’ urging, the group then began a spirited rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honor of Archbishop Chaput, who was celebrating his 71st birthday that day.  That small gesture was something that stuck with Harmon.

“Having us sing to Archbishop Chaput, Pope Francis took the spotlight off himself and put it on someone else,” Harmon said, noting that it was a concrete reminder of what the priesthood is all about. “We are here to serve and to help...We are to put Christ and put others before ourselves.”

The men also shared a moment with the Holy Father on Sept. 27 as Pope Francis walked through the seminarian-lined loggia of St. Martin of Tours Chapel on his way to address the bishops gathered there.

“Being so close to him was a surreal experience,” Harmon said. “You see him on TV all the time … but seeing him in person, you feel the energy, the love.”

While it was difficult for Harmon to pinpoint one moment that would remain with him the longest from Pope Francis’ pastoral visit, he recalled one that stirred deep emotion during the Festival of Families celebration Sept. 26.

“It hit me hard … when he asked everyone to join in prayer to the Blessed Mother,” Harmon said. “Praying with Pope Francis to Our Lady ... it just brought tears to my eyes. It was amazing to feel the presence of Christ, the Pope and Mary. To see all these people praying together was overwhelming for me.”

McCoy had an easier time whittling his memories into one that will last a lifetime.

 “Sunday morning, after [Pope Francis] spoke with the Bishops, he lined up with the seminarians outside for a photo. Our house has offered him a spiritual bouquet, a monetary gift for the poor in Rome and a zucchetto,” McCoy said. “He spoke to the house president ... and wished us all well. He told us to remember penance and mortification don’t go out of style. Even though the world may change we mustn’t forget to do penance and deny ourselves.

“I was really just struck by how humble and simple he was. When we were around him, you could just kind of feel it. He’s a man of few words, but when he speaks he really has something to say.”