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On A Mission: Acts of Service During the Papal Visit to Canada

This was no ordinary time.

“I received a phone call in early June about the possibility of helping out at the Papal Mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton,” recounts Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, President of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).

Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, SMCS President with confreres during papal visit
Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB (far right) with his confreres during the papal visit, along the waters of Edmonton’s Lac Ste. Anne, described as the “largest annual pilgrimage site for Indigenous Peoples and Catholics in Western Canada.”

“My first reaction was surprise! I had heard about his potential visit to Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit but never thought much about it,” he says.

All of that changed in a virtual instant.

Pope Francis’ historic ‘penitential pilgrimage’ to Canada in late July 2022 to apologize for the Catholic Church’s involvement in government-run residential schools for Indigenous children — was a 6-day-visit that would typically take months, even years to plan.

This papal visit followed a decidedly different script.

A confluence of factors including the pontiff’s health, COVID-19 restrictions, and other planned travel, meant that Pope Francis’ highly anticipated visit to Canada was organized in just over 120 days.

The brisk timeline, along with a stream of logistics, moving parts and details called for all hands on deck.

In this case, experienced hands.

“The Archdiocese of Edmonton wanted somebody with experience running and organizing papal liturgies,” says Fr. Leung, himself a native of Calgary, Alberta.

“I was involved in organizing and coordinating the International Liturgy Group for World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany,” he continues. “The final Papal Mass there was for a million people.”

A far cry from the 60-thousand faithful originally forecast for the outdoor mass at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

This, coupled with Fr. Leung’s familiarity with the surrounding area — he served as pastor in two parishes in Edmonton — made him a natural fit to help this time around.

His valued experience afforded him a front row seat on history.

Fr. Leung, CSB and fellow priests preparing for the Papal Mass. The altar where the Pope will be seated for the Papal Mass.

“I was one of the 10 assistant Master of Ceremonies for the mass,” says Fr. Leung. “We were assigned tasks like directing traffic on the stage/sanctuary for the altar servers, readers, priests, bishops, and cardinals, and making sure the bishops were vested properly and grouped in the right order of the procession. Another was to ensure the torch bearers entered and exited the stage/sanctuary at the right time. I was to also make sure a section of eucharistic ministers were in the right place at the right time on the field with their attendants holding up umbrellas for easy recognition when communion was being distributed.”

And then there were the tasks taking place behind the scenes, including: ironing of vestments for all presiders and participants, ensuring all necessary liturgical furniture and equipment (vessels, candles, etc.) were transported to the stadium and fit for use, among other duties.

Fr. Andrew Leung in front of the popemobile.
Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, in front of the ‘popemobile’, specifically designed for use by the Pope during public appearances.

The visit marked the fourth time Fr. Leung has been in the presence of the head of the Catholic Church.

“I have met previous popes — St. John Paul II twice in Rome, Benedict XVI in Cologne — and now Francis in Edmonton,” says Fr. Leung, who was ordained to the priesthood in 2008.

“What struck me was the tension with it being a penitential papal visit, a solemn time to remember the harms that were committed and welcoming the Holy Father in a subdued celebratory way,” he continues. “It was definitely not like the World Youth Day excitement, dancing, and singing. Rather it was an occasion to remember in a penitential setting.”

Also rare — a pope visiting the same city more than once. Edmonton was the first city in Canada to welcome a pope in 1984. During that visit, Pope John Paul II held a mass attended by more than 100,000.

Fr. Leung, CSB and fellow priests preparing for the Papal Mass. A rosary given to Fr. Andrew Leung by the Pope.

Thirty-eight years later, a different pope, a different purpose.

The final attendance for the 2022 outdoor mass hovered around 40,000 people.

And for Fr. Leung, the significance of the moment remained profound.

Fr. Andrew Leung meeting Pope Francis at the Papal Mass.
Photo courtesy of: © Vatican Media

“I am always reminded of how big and universal the Catholic Church is,” he says. “Even when dealing with the bishops and cardinals as they were getting ready for the opening procession. You are reminded that not all the bishops are Latin Rite, some are Eastern Rite (Ukrainian and Maronite). I am also reminded that the Papal Mass is just like a regular mass I celebrate every day and Sunday. Except this time, it is with the Holy Father and much larger!”

And as he continues to process and preserve the memories of six historic days, on the heels of several hectic weeks, Fr. Leung looks forward to the future impact of the papal visit.

Papal Mass at Commonwealth Stadium in 2022.

“I believe the legacy of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada will be significant,” he says. “The Canadian Church and Indigenous Peoples might not see the effects immediately, but the leadership of the Canadian Church is quite aware of the commitment that they have made in walking together with their Indigenous partners to reconcile, heal, and remember the wrongs of the past, especially with the residential school system.”

Photos courtesy of: © Vatican Media

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