When Pope Francis visited the United States in September, Andrew Wendelborn, '99, MNA '12 was one of the lucky people who were there to welcome him at the White House. Here is his reflection on his extraordinary experience:
Awakened by my alarm at 3:00 a.m., I readied myself for the momentous day ahead of me. I drove nearly 40 miles from a friend’s house in Virginia to Washington’s Union Station where I parked my car and taxied west toward my destination. Soon, I joined 11,000 other people in a long but quickly-moving line, all of us waiting to pass through a security checkpoint manned by scores of TSA personnel, Secret Service agents and their canine counterparts.
The air of the predawn darkness was humid and getting warmer by the minute, but it didn’t dull my anticipation or excitement as I entered the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I imagine that stepping on the South Lawn for the first time would be an exciting moment for anyone, but this wasn’t just a visit to the White House—I was among the privileged thousands who were there to welcome the Pope to his first visit to the United States.
As an American Catholic, getting the the opportunity to welcome Pope Francis to America was exhilarating. I, and the other 11,000 faithful, stood in our spots for more than four hours waiting for his arrival— an experience that taught me to never again complain about the length of a traditional Catholic Mass.
Everything I saw that morning as the sun rose over the South Lawn will forever be imbedded in my memory. Fifty feet to my right, The Today Show’s host Matt Lauer was joined by Maria Shriver as they reported on the momentous event. Coincidentally, their NBC cameraman was wearing a blue Notre Dame jacket.
Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly and Univesity of Notre Dame President, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., were settled in the VIP section to my left. The men and women of our armed forces proudly hoisted Old Glory and the flag of Vatican City, raising them high as the President of the United States made his entrance as “Ruffles and Flourishes” and “Hail to the Chief” signalled his arrival. And, finally, at 9:18 a.m., Pope Francis arrived in his famous Fiat as the band played the “Pontifical Anthem and March” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
President Barack Obama acknowledged the significant contribution of some 70 million American Catholics to our nation. He also highlighted the Pope’s personal charisma and humility, noting that "the excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as Pope, but to your unique qualities as a person."
Pope Francis, in turn, praised religious liberty as "one of America’s most precious possessions" and encouraged "all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world."
Lastly, the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps completed a final marchpast and Pope Francis joined the President and First Lady for a final wave to the crowd from the balcony outside the White House’s Blue Room, leaving the crowd slightly depressed that the long-anticipated event was over far quicker than we all had hoped.
I will never forget the sights and sounds of that morning. Wednesday, September 23, 2015 was a historic day, and I was blessed to be a part of it. As a Double Domer, the experience truly embodied “God, Country, Notre Dame.” May God bless America and Go Irish!
-Andrew Wendelborn ’99, MNA ’12