Our Jesuit Pope: A member of St. Junipero Serra’s order reflects

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Br. Christian Seno

Brother Christian Seno, OFM, had never been in the presence of the Holy Father. He had certainly never been to a Mass the size of the one he attended at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Brother Christian, who is beginning his third year as a member of the Order of Franciscans Minor in the Holy Name Province, joined his fellow friars and thousands of others for the canonization Mass of a member of their order, St. Junipero Serra, an 18th Century Franciscan friar who served in California.

“We were all seated together by the aisle, and the bishops were processing past. Cardinal Sean O’Malley (of the Archdiocese of Boston) and others were congratulating us on the new saint,” said Brother Christian, who is pursuing an M.A. in Pastoral Counseling on the faith and social justice track at Loyola University Maryland.

Brother Christian, right, poses with some of his fellow friars.

There is some controversy surrounding the saint’s life, who is seen by some as part of the Spanish empire’s oppression of Native Americans.

“That’s the difficulty of that story,” said Brother Christian, who attended a second Mass afterward at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. There a member of a Native American tribe who had helped present the saint’s relic to Pope Francis during the canonization Mass spoke. “He gave a speech about how we need to transcend the difficulties of that story and use it to foster relationships with the Native American tribes in the United States today.”

A graduate of Cooper Union, where he studied painting, Brother Christian was working in store and merchandise design when he started spending his lunch hour at Mass at a Franciscan church around the corner from his office, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. As he started volunteering there through some of the church’s ministry, he saw the joy of the Franciscans and was inspired to learn more about their work.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston stops to greet the friars.

“I think it was something that I intuited since I was young, but for me I avoided it for as long as I could,” he said. “Everybody has a different path of how they ended up in religious life. It’s such a roundabout way sometimes. I haven’t met many people who wanted to be a religious and became a religious right away. My viewpoint is that God doesn’t coerce you to do anything. In a way, I don’t even like the word vocation as a summons or a call. I see it kind of like an invitation that you can take up or not, more of a good option among many different good options.”

At the Mass in Washington, D.C., Brother Christian sat with his fellow Franciscans in a pew at the Shrine as Pope Francis arrived and walked up the aisle toward the altar to bless them.

“It was such a tremendous experience. It was overwhelming in many ways, but positive. Just to experience being together with an entire church helps even people who don’t necessarily believe but are really drawn by Pope Francis’ message,” Brother Christian said. “Just to see the seminarians, cloistered nuns in their full habits, was really exciting. I like seeing religious when they’re not dour, when they’re texting, when they’re on their iPhone taking pictures. It’s just really being just like everybody else.”

After the canonization Mass was over, many priests and religious gathered for photos on the altar.

And Brother Christian was moved by the Pope’s message—and his visit.

Brother Christian stands at the altar after the canonization Mass.

“I like the fact that he’s not a pope that rests solely on doctrine, that he’s somebody who transcends and really talks about human relationships.”

Brother Christian poses for a photo on the altar after the canonization Mass.

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