The delegation, led by John Podesta who serves as Counselor to the President, included Congressman Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and Katie Beirne Fallon, assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs.
Before the canonization, Podesta and Becerra, along with US Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett, held a media round table discussion on their visit to Rome for the canonization. Podesta said that both Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II "represent key parts of the Catholic faith - courage, care, and concern for the forgotten."
Becerra described the canonizations as "a great day to be a Catholic." The Californian politician, whose parents emigrated to the US from Mexico, spoke not only of the impact of the saintly Pontiffs in his life, but also his admiration for Pope Francis. "As a Latino, as a son of an immigrant, he's my guy," Becerra told journalists.
ZENIT spoke with Congressman Becerra on the personal impact that Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II had in his life and the effect that Pope Francis has in America today.
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ZENIT: How has the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II touched you personally?
Becerra: For me the importance of what John XXIII did, it is something that I didn't understand as a child when he became pope, but I see how what he did for my family, not only my family but the families that represent a people that now see the Church has their home. This is important because families that never had much, that never had someone that tells that they are of importance, to have a person from such a high position say "I am going to open the house of the Lord to you" it is something important that although not recognized, it is important.
John Paul II, the way in which he fought, fought, fought without giving up in order to give that freedom to a people. That is, not only the Polish people, but a people who look for freedom, is something important. It is great to see how he fought. I did not always agree with John Paul II in everything that he said, but I admire that he never gave up the fight for freedom.
ZENIT: We know that you admire Pope Francis a great deal. The Pope has focused on different issues in the world, particularly immigration. What do you think of the "Francis effect" with regards to the theme of immigration, which is an important issue in the United States?
Becerra: What Pope Francis says is inspiring, but more than that, he gives hope. He gives a reason for which can believe that immigration reform is possible, a university education for children - a hope that is so necessary for a family that never had much, to believe that tomorrow will be better for their children. That is indescribable! I see in my parents that dream of giving a better life to their children. For me, it is easier to tell my children that will have a better [life], but for those who are like my parents, who are looking for that better [life], where anyone can enter a restaurant and not see a sign that says "No dogs or Mexicans allowed", that hope must be there. And that is what John XXIII, for me, had done and what Pope Francis seems to be doing now.
ZENIT: It was said that the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had invited Pope Francis to address the U.S. Congress. Although there is no confirmation that it will happen, if it does happen, what would you hope would be the effect of an address by the Holy Father?
Becerra: I don't have to hope, I know [it would have an effect]. And I don't even know what Pope Francis would say, but I know it would be transforming. It would be difficult for me to believe that if the Pope were to accept an invitation to come speak before the Congress of the United States and the American people, that the Congress would not have taken steps to address so many of the issues that the Pope is speaking so vigorously on, so powerfully. Because it would be as if you're inviting someone to your home, who's a champion or a community, and you're ignoring that community but you're asking one of the leaders of that community to come and speak. It would be almost an embarrassment for the United States to have Pope Francis come to the US to address us in our democratic body, the people's House, and not be able to say that the people, all our people, are receiving what the Constitution believes is a God-given, unalienable right. So, it would be powerful. It would be powerful!
ZENIT: What do you hope to take back with you to the US from this visit for the canonization as a member of the Presidential delegation?
Becerra: Memories. I mean, isn't that at the end what religion is? It's a belief, it's not something really tangible, it's not like this chair that you can pick up and take home. I'm going to make sure that I have my rosaries ready. Everyone is going to ask, "Did you see [Pope Francis]? Did you say hello? Did you shake his hand? What did you do?" It's the memory. The rest of the world will watch, perhaps, but they will not be there. I was there! It’s like when I went to go see the "tilma" of Juan Diego. You hear about it but when you see it, you finally say "I saw it." Whether you believe it or not, you may say, "I don't believe it" but you saw it. And I was here. And so it will be the memory because not everyone will be able to say that [they were here]. So I know what will happen is that at some point in my life, someone will say "Grandpa, tell us the story of how you were there when the two popes were canonized!" or "Tell us when you saw Pope Francis" who may by then become a saint himself. So it’s the memories more than anything else because belief is not tangible. Belief is all over!