Check in: Will Frei attends Mass at the Shrine

Will Frei, center, is a seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Seminarian Will Frei says Pope Francis has been a special inspiration to him throughout his journey to the priesthood.

So his spirits soared on Wednesday, Sept. 23, when he got to see the pope celebrate Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Frei is currently studying at Catholic University and occasionally serves on the altar at the Shrine.

“Seeing him celebrate Mass here in Washington where I study and serve made me feel like I was watching a friend or family member,” he said. “He has given me greater vigor and excitement in my journey to the priesthood. He has helped me see the beauty of the Church and that everyone in it, including the hierarchy, is like a family.”

Church choirs from parishes around D.C. performed at the liturgy.

“The music included Gregorian chants, gospel hymns, songs in Spanish, and then during Mass gift bearers were all of different backgrounds,” he said. “It truly showed the wide diversity of Catholics in the U.S. who all share the same faith, and the value of many different cultures coming together.

Frei said it was “almost surreal” to see the Holy Father walk into the Shrine. Pope Francis was framed by natural light as the doors opened, and his fellow seminarians and others in the pews cheered the pope’s arrival. The most powerful moment, he said, was when the pope turned to the entire congregation and made the sign of the cross to bless them before the Mass started.

Frei noticed that Pope Francis seemed a little tired during the Mass, understandable when you consider his age, jet lag and the nonstop schedule he’s experienced since he stepped off the place on Tuesday.

“I think any tiredness allowed him to focus even more deeply on the Mass — he never seemed rushed but seemed content, present for the people,” he said. “He spoke very quietly but with strength. He was confident in what he had to say. He was very kind, just like a good pastor is.”