Everybody comes to Washington.
We get spoiled that way. When I moved here after college graduation, there was a steady progression of visitors through the living room of my first apartment, even before there was a couch for them to sleep on. So I got to see friends from home, high school, and college, many of whom I did not visit where they lived.
Similarly among my priest friends, many of whom I met during seminary or while working in Rome, the number is large of those whose visits I have enjoyed when they found reason to come to our city, but far smaller of the ones whose home or place of assignment was a guiding factor in my decision to visit them. Because here we have Catholic University, the Conference of Bishops, and the annual March for Life, plus other institutions and events, most of the priests I want to see come here sooner or later.
This has been a great joy to me, especially since my local roots are thin to nonexistent. I know a lot of folks in our parish routinely run into high school classmates at the grocery store or ball game, and have family whose distance away is measured in parishes, rather than states or even time zones, as mine are. It means I have to work a little harder to stay in touch. But an awful lot of that work is done for me by the city in which I live, which gives lots of reasons for those folks to be, at least briefly, within dinner distance.
The Pope came to Washington this week. Of course he did – isn’t that what the Pope does? It certainly has become the expectation in the few short decades since John Paul II’s historic visit in 1979, the first ever. When Benedict XVI came here three years into his pontificate, it seemed a natural thing for him to do as a “beginning” Pope. So last year when Pope Francis announced that he would be attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, almost everybody seemed to expect it as the most natural thing in the world that he, too, would pay a call on our nation’s capital, its leaders, and us – its people.
Coming precisely according to these expectations, and so soon – seven years! – after the last papal visit, this could hardly be considered a surprise. Nonetheless, even for a city so accustomed to visiting dignitaries and big events, as well as the opportunities and inconveniences they bring, this one tested us. And even hardened as we are to celebrities and power players in our midst, Washingtonians manage to get pretty excited about the Pope being here.
This combination of experience with the ability to get excited makes us metro-Washingtonians pretty good hosts, whether for our college roommate accompanying his kids on a school trip, or for the Successor of Peter himself.
Because the Pope came to Washington, I got to see friends and acquaintances whom I would otherwise not. One of the priests who came from the Vatican to assist the Holy Father’s Master of Ceremonies is a friend and classmate. Of course, there was not much time for a visit, but we did enjoy working together during the Mass and its rehearsals. Priest friends here for the Papal visit from North Carolina, Florida, and Alabama made time for us to get together. And two priests whom I had not seen since seminary made contact too, one to stay in our rectory, one for help with a ticket.
Of course I was pleased, but not surprised, because sooner or later, if even only to see the Pope, everybody comes to Washington.