Ryan Fecteau came away with a sunburn and a renewed sense of faith after attending a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Wednesday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Fecteau, 23, a Democratic state representative from Biddeford, secured his seat on the lawn near the basilica around 9:30 a.m. and sat under the blazing sun until the service got underway at 4:15 p.m.

Francis celebrated the Mass in Spanish, so Fecteau and many others relied on the closed-captioned English translation on large video screens. Fecteau, who is the youngest openly gay state representative in the United States, said he was surprised to hear how gently the pontiff delivered his increasingly popular messages of inclusiveness, respect and compassion.

“The first thing I noticed is that he’s so soft-spoken. That was incredible to me,” Fecteau said in a phone interview after the Mass. “He talked about how there isn’t a ‘short list’ of who’s worthy to be part of the faith. That was a defining moment for me. There were people from all walks of life there and I was fortunate to be among them.”

Fecteau was one of dozens of Mainers who attended events in the nation’s capital on Wednesday as Pope Francis made the rounds from the White House, where he met privately with President Obama, to midday prayers with American bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, to the canonization Mass for Saint Junipero Serra at the basilica. Like Fecteau, many of them are Roman Catholics, who now number about 175,000 in Maine.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation attended the welcoming ceremony at the White House, including U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine, whose guest was the Rev. Michael Seavey, administrator of Portland’s Catholic parishes. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was there with former Democratic state legislator Anne Rand of Portland. The two women posed for a photo with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.


Bishop Robert Deeley, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, attended midday prayers with the pope, then visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine before attending the Mass at the basilica.

Deeley, who had met Pope Francis before, said the most moving moment for him was when he greeted the pontiff.

“I told him that I carried the love and prayers of the Catholic people of Maine,” Deeley said in a phone interview after the Mass, which included Bible readings in Native American, Spanish and English, and prayers in Korean, Vietnamese, Haitian and other languages.

“It was a beautiful testimony to all of the cultures and peoples that make up the United States,” Deeley said. “It was an exhausting day, but the enthusiasm of everyone there really lifts you up.”

About 25,000 people attended the canonization Mass for Serra, a Franciscan friar who started nine Spanish missions in California in the 1700s. While Native American groups have criticized the ceremony, saying that Serra doesn’t deserve sainthood because the mission system persecuted California Indians, no protesters were apparent at the Mass, Fecteau said.

The Mass was concelebrated by more than 1,000 priests, including 400 bishops, said Suzanne Lafreniere, public policy director for the Maine diocese.


“It was amazing to see so many men who have given their lives in service to the church,” Lafreniere said via phone. “It kind of choked me up when I saw them.”

While she was waiting in line, making her way into the Mass, Lafreniere saw Pope Francis ride by.

“People around me were in tears,” Lafreniere said. “They had a visceral reaction to seeing him.”

Lafreniere also attended the White House welcoming ceremony in the morning, as did Steve Letourneau, CEO of Catholic Charities Maine. The crowds, the intense security and the opportunity to witness the pope’s humility and hear his call to live and share the Gospel was overwhelming.

“The whole day was amazing,” Letourneau said via phone after the Mass. “There was a lot of waiting, but it was kind of like Christmas. Everyone was nice to each other. You got the sense that people were happy and excited and honored to be there for this historic day. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

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