It’s something most Catholics wish for but are rarely given the opportunity to do: meet the pope. On Friday, September 25, 2015, two local priests will have the chance to do just that.
Fr. Christopher Argano, 33, who is stationed at St. Columba in Hopewell Junction, vividly recalls the first moment he learned he’d been selected to assist in the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. He received a phone call from Fr. Matthew Ernest, the liturgical director for the archdiocese (and a Poughkeepsie native), back in April.
“He asked if I would be interested in serving as master of ceremonies during the Mass. Of course, I agreed!” he says. “Then I ended the call with him and immediately called my parents.”
Fr. Argano says his role as MC is to be a director of sorts: He will be off the stage guiding seminarians who are serving in the sanctuary (the area where the altar, cross, Tabernacle, and clergy’s seats are located) by giving them cues as to what they need to do at the proper times. He is also supposed to keep an eye out if anyone gets nervous and keep things running smoothly.
Fr. James Cruz, 50, pastor of St. Mary’s in Wappingers Falls and former secretary to Timothy Cardinal Dolan, will also be present at the Mass, serving directly in the sanctuary by assisting the papal emissary and the other bishops who are concelebrating the Mass. “I found out about three weeks ago and I thought ‘Wow, what an honor,’ ” he says. Three other priests, including Fr. Ernest, will also serve in this capacity.
Fr. Cruz, who was ordained in 2005, was fortunate to meet Pope Francis twice before during the six years he served as the cardinal’s secretary. However, this time he says it carries much more weight. “This time it’s within the context of Mass, which is the most important thing we do because it’s when we bring people the Eucharist — the source and summit of what we believe,” he says.
For Fr. Argano, ordained in 2009, this would be a first close encounter with the Supreme Pontiff. But with the pope’s six-day trip to the U.S. jam-packed — his two-day stint in New York includes Vespers (evening prayer) in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, addressing the U.N., a Central Park procession, a multi-faith prayer service at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, visiting an elementary school in East Harlem, and Mass for 20,000 in the Garden — there may not be a time for meet and greets. Nevertheless, Fr. Argano, who speaks English, Italian, and Spanish, is prepared.
“My plan is to tell His Holiness it’s a pleasure to meet him, and to say it in Spanish,” he says, referring to Pope Francis’s Buenos Aires origins. “But my concern is he’ll respond in high-level Spanish, plus I’ll be in such awe of being so close to him, that I’ll just babble!” he laughs.
Fr. Argano believes that the pope’s visit will do good for Catholics, and public opinion of Catholics, especially at a time when current hot-button social concerns don’t align with Church teaching. “The pope is going to address difficult issues like marriage, the unborn, and climate change. His handling of those things with dignity and grace, his presence, and his personality are all good for us.”
Fr. Cruz agrees. “Whenever a pope visits a place, it’s a shot in the arm for all Catholics there. And people who don’t understand the Faith can come to see the humanity of the Church — that we’re called to do God’s will and serve. The pope embodies that very well. It’s a beautiful thing.”