CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN  Following the June 2 announcement of the winning design for the altar that Pope Francis will use at his outdoor Mass on Sept. 23 in Washington, Catholic University of America architecture students Ariadne Cerritelli and Matthew Hoffman (at center) stand beside their design, joined at right by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and from left by John Garvey, CUA’s president, and by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Not pictured is the third student from the winning design team, Joseph Taylor.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Following the June 2 announcement of the winning design for the altar that Pope Francis will use at his outdoor Mass on Sept. 23 in Washington, Catholic University of America architecture students Ariadne Cerritelli and Matthew Hoffman (at center) stand beside their design, joined at right by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and from left by John Garvey, CUA’s president, and by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Not pictured is the third student from the winning design team, Joseph Taylor.
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Because the crowd of people who will gather at Pope Francis’s open air Mass in Washington in September won’t be able to experience the interior beauty of the Basilica of the National Shine of the Immaculate Conception during the Mass, the winning students of the altar design contest decided to bring the architecture of the grand church out to the people. 

A jury consisting of representatives from the Archdiocese of Washington, the basilica and The Catholic University of America picked the design of the winning team, featuring Catholic University architecture students Ariadne Cerritelli, Matthew Hoffman, and Joseph Taylor. Their design for the altar, ambo, and other pieces of liturgical furniture, which was revealed at Catholic University on June 2, features arches in the Romanesque-Byzantine style of the basilica and consists of two types of marble that match the church’s interior pillars. 

A symbol featured in the center of the altar will pay homage to the Virgin Mary, for whom the basilica is dedicated. The papal Mass will be celebrated on Sept. 23 on the east steps of the basilica, overlooking the Catholic University Mall. The students’ designs were based on the assumption that the papal Mass furnishings could find continued use after Sept. 23 as permanent fixtures inside the basilica. 

Cardinal Wuerl thanked the architecture students for embarking on the “extraordinary task” of making the altar that millions around the world will see when Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Washington. “Thank you for reminding us, whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God,” he said.

The cardinal attended the announcement of the winning altar design, along with Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector; John Garvey, CUA’s president; and Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, the chair of the competition’s jury.

The winning design team noted the front of the altar will have four columns to represent the four vows that     Jesuits, like Pope Francis, take to join the Society of Jesus. The three arches symbolize the Trinity. The banner that will hang from the basilica will feature a background of yellow and white, the colors of the Vatican, and a blue Calatrava cross, which appears in the Buenos Aires coat of arms. It is also an emblem that Blessed Junipero Serra, whom the pope will canonize during the Mass, would have been familiar with. 

“It’s clear to me that the contestants all did their homework. They put a lot of thought and creativity into their designs and rationales,” Msgr. Rossi said. 

Eighteen teams of at least two students each participated in the design competition at Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning, which was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the basilica. The teams had to build a scale model of at least one of the furnishings and make presentations of their designs to the jury on May 15.  

Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the National Shrine and Catholic University, following Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The papal visit to the United States will be the first by Pope Francis, and Blessed Junipero Serra’s canonization will be the first such ceremony held in the United States. Blessed Serra, an 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary to California, established 21 missions along California’s coast.

It has been announced that during Pope Francis’s September visit to Washington, he will also address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24 and visit President Obama at the White House on Sept. 23. Also during his U.S. visit, Pope Francis will address the United Nations in New York and celebrate Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. 

The altar design competition  marks the second time that CUA students have designed furnishings for a papal visit to Washington, which they also did for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. 

Details of the Washington stop are not finalized, and the archdiocese has not yet announced information beyond confirming the dates and the three Washington itinerary items. The faithful are encouraged to sign up to receive emails and texts from the archdiocese at www.adw.org/papalvisit.