As of Wednesday afternoon, the Rev. Sam Young had seen three popes on American soil. This week, the pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church, in Ellicott City, attended Pope Francis' Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. In 2008, he attended Pope Benedict's Mass at Nationals Park in D.C.; and in 1995, he attended Pope John Paul II's Mass in Baltimore. On all three occasions he was a concelebrant.
"We're pretty fortunate to have had a few popes come to East Coast venues," Young said. "There is a convenience factor, because I just have to hop on a bus."
Young, 52, who is from Parkville, served at several Baltimore County parishes before being posted to St. Paul in July. He said that all priests from the Baltimore Archdiocese, which includes St. Paul, were invited to attend the Pope's Mass at Catholic University.
But it is not just the convenience of American papal visits that is important to Young.
"I've been fortunate to go to Rome and see St. Peter's and all of that," Young said. "But just to know that he's right here — it's exciting for Catholics, and it's exciting for the U.S. We get excited about visits from presidents of other countries, but the Pope is the head of the universal Catholic church. He's a global figure. He's responsible for Catholics around the world, no matter where they live."
The Ellicott City priest was considered a concelebrant at the Pope's Mass on Wednesday, since he was not the main celebrant but attended in his role as a priest.
"It's like baseball, you can't have two pitchers on the mound," said Young. "The Pope — he's the one gathering everyone together, and in a Catholic Mass, only one person can be the principal celebrant. All the other priests at the Mass are concelebrants. We participate using our priestly faculties."
As a concelebrant, Young said that he had a "very good seat," but that he was about 150 feet away from the Pope. The distance did not detract from his excitement.
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"I'm not an over excited type of person, but just the energy of him being there was felt by everyone," he said.
"It was just, wow," he added. "I'm right there, and he's there."
Pope Francis has a special magnetism because of his approachability, Young said.
"His humility is definitely something that is special about him. Not many popes are being driven around in a Fiat," the priest said. "And when he came into the Catholic University campus [adjacent to the Basilica], he was in the Popemobile so that he could stand and wave."
"That's what he wants the people to know — there is a simplicity about him," Young said, "simplicity that he wants to live out in his own life."
Young said that he returned to his parish energized by the Pope's message at the Mass: "Our hearts cannot go numb."
"I think he was saying that we can't be full of apathy and think, we can't do anything about this," Young said. "The issues of the U.S. are felt by all people, not just by the poor, not just by the marginalized, but by all people."