Members of the official U.S. government delegation to the canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II spoke of the honor and their good fortune in being chosen by President Barack Obama to attend the April 27 event.
"I'm tickled to be here," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "It's thrilling to be here to represent my government at this canonization," and to fulfill a serious commission given him by his mother: "Bring back some rosaries."
The delegation was led by presidential counselor John Podesta and included Katie Beirne Fallon, an assistant to the president and director of legislative affairs.
The United States was one of more than 90 countries that sent official delegations to the Mass; more than 30 delegations were led by a president or prime minister. The king and queen of Spain and the king and queen of Belgium were in attendance.
Meeting reporters at the home of Ken Hackett, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Podesta noted that the three U.S. delegates are Catholic.
"There was probably a long line of volunteers, and we were lucky enough to be at the front of it," he said.
Podesta, who had served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, met St. John Paul twice.
"I think partly because of the length of his papacy" and "the strength of his personality, even when he was frail -- the second time I met him he was already frail -- I think it always seemed like he was destined for sainthood.
"Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II both opened the church to the world in their own ways," Podesta said. "They were both popes who went out to the world, and they both projected those values of courage, care and concern."
"John XXIII revolutionized the church," he said, especially by emphasizing the important role of the laity in the life of the church, opening a level of participation "that when I was a young boy was not possible."
Becerra said a canonization is something "those of us who grew up Catholic always heard about, never thinking that we would get to witness" the event in person.
"It's a great day to be a Catholic," Becerra said.
He said he remembered St. John Paul particularly as a champion of human freedom, insisting to the world -- including the communist regimes then ruling in Eastern Europe -- that "you have to give people a chance" to determine their choice of government and direction in life.
"John XXIII was a pioneer," he said, "he made the church relevant to my parents," not only by launching the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical reforms, but especially by emphasizing its catholicity and its call to welcome all people. For Mexican immigrants in California, he said, "he made it clear: The Lord's house is your house."
Becerra also praised Pope Francis. "As a Latino and the son of immigrants, he's my guy."
"Pope Francis had done a lot to inspire us, not just as Catholics, but as Americans, those who believe in justice and freedom and opportunity," he said.