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Here’s What’s Going on Behind the Scenes of the Papal Mass Prep in D.C.


Zoe Romanowsky - published on 09/22/15

Preparing for a liturgy this big is no joke

With Pope Francis touching down in Washington D.C. today, time is running out for all the organizers who are preparing last minute details for the Mass the pontiff will preside over at the historic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Aleteia spoke briefly with two members of the Archdiocese of Washington’s planning team about what it’s like as they get ready for the Canonization Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra.

Fr. Mark Knestout, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Bethesda, MD, along with Fr. Michael Weston from the Basilica, is in charge of the liturgy. (Fr. Knestout oversaw the liturgy at the National Stadium in 2008 for Pope Benedict XVI.)

Fr. Knestout, what’s the most difficult part of your job?

Communication. To put this in context: There will be one pope, 12 cardinals, 275 bishops, 954 priests, 200 deacons, over 200 volunteers assisting with communion, 1,100 other volunteers, and 26,000 attendees. And this doesn’t include the people involved in the liturgy itself — the lectors, gift-bearers, etc.

How does planning this liturgy compare to your past experience planning a papal  liturgy at the National Stadium? 

A stadium Mass is easier because the building is designed to control and move crowds; there is much more space to work with. Here, we’re creating a sanctuary outside and there’s a lot to have to think about — where to vest, the location for the communion ministers and all the volunteers, etc. We have to put everyone someplace. We are using the Shrine inside for people to be seated, but a sanctuary has been established on the East Portico for the Mass outside.

How do you stay sane with all of these balls in the air?

It’s the great bunch of people I work with, including Fr. Michael from the Shrine. It’s an incredible team, and includes people with crisp minds for logistics.

For you, what’s the most meaningful part of this event?

That so many people will be impacted by our efforts, and making sure the liturgy is beautiful and will happen in a reverent and efficient way.


Aleteia also spoke with Christa Lopiccolo, Executive Director of the Department of Life Issues for the Archdiocese of Washington, who oversaw communion distribution at the National Stadium Mass for Pope Benedict XVI and is in charge of the transportation plan this time.

Ms. Lopiccolo, what is it like right now in the mad rush before Pope Francis arrives?

I’m getting lot of frantic calls, from people wanting to makes sure they know everything they need to know… There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation, as well as trepidation about D.C. traffic.

What is the spirit like among your coworkers? Are they looking forward to this, or are they thinking, “I’ll be happy when this week is over!”? 

A bit of both! This is a massive event, so for most of the team, a lot of our regular jobs aren’t getting done. There’s a desire for normalcy to resume… there are pressing issues I’d love to give attention to but can’t at the moment. But we’re all excited, too, and feel proud to be part of it.

What is the greatest challenge you face right now? 

Making sure everyone finds where they’re supposed to be, that I am able to communicate instructions well, and everything goes smoothly. We’re always at the mercy of D.C. traffic!

Do you think, given what kind of event this is, that people will have extra patience and sensitivity towards logistical annoyances they may encounter? 

I would bet money on this, yes. Based on my experience of former events like this, people are extra patient. During the last papal event, the press went on and on about how amazing it was that so many people were in town and it went so well… no major problems, plenty of grace flowing. I can already feel this. Excitement will carry the day.

What’s your favorite part of a papal event like this? 

Being able to facilitate this — to be part of a process that allows people to have this kind of encounter, something that could be life-changing and a key moment in their faith life. It’s a great privilege to be able to be part of that. And to watch people’s faces as they arrive and leave.

Zoe Romanowsky is Lifestyle Editor and Video Content Producer for Aleteia

Pope Francis USA
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