Carmina Chapp, associate director of online theology
programs, reflects on this historic occasion.
Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States was an
amazing experience for me as a Catholic theologian. Having had the privilege of
representing Saint Joseph’s College at the World Meeting of Families in
Philadelphia, I was able to attend the Papal Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway
to conclude his visit. Throughout the week, I would catch highlights of the Pope’s
various speeches in Washington D.C. and in New York. His message was timely,
consistent, and universal.
My friend and Saint Joseph’s colleague Dr. Susan Timoney
serves as Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the
Archdiocese of Washington. It was her
responsibility to work logistics for the papal parade in Washington, D.C. She
and her staff, and a myriad of volunteers, succeeded in making the event a safe
and memorable experience for everyone.
“The crowds were huge, but the spirit was joyous!,” she told
me. “The ability for the Pope to be able to communicate ‘I hear you, I want to
assure you that you are loved and not alone.’ For me, I feel like he is really
challenging us to ask ourselves what we can do to encounter people in a way
that we imitate Jesus' invitation to Come and See. What do they need to see or
experience in order to accept the invitation?”
She, along with another Saint Joseph’s colleague, Fr. Frank
Donio, SAC, Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C.,
provided commentary for the papal events for the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which streamed the Pope’s speeches live throughout
his stay in the United States.
During the Pope’s address to Congress, friends kept texting
me that the Pope was talking about Dorothy Day – a personal hero of mine. My
husband and I run the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern
Pennsylvania. It was quite affirming to hear him mention her. His words to the
bishops of the United States were beautiful – urging them to pray and stay
close to Christ, looking to God for direction.
My niece texted me from New York City to tell me she got a
glimpse of the Pope’s arm out the window of his Fiat. It was edifying to see
the younger generation take an interest in the papal visit. This was clearly
the case at the World Meeting of Families, where I met many young families
excited to see the Pope.
Attendees of the Papal Mass in Philadelphia filled the Ben
Franklin Parkway. Though there were hundreds of thousands of people of a wide
variety of nationalities, you could still feel an intimacy. It was peaceful,
and people were kind to one another. There was a reverent atmosphere throughout
the Mass. Even though the Pope was almost a mile away from where I was
standing, I was participating in the celebration as if he were right in front
of me. We all were, responding to the Mass parts and standing and kneeling at
the appropriate times, just as if we were in a church (of course, the jumbotron
helped!). It was a tremendous experience of the universality of Catholicism.
In his homily, Pope Francis warned us not to be “scandalized
by the freedom of God who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous
alike” and called us to an authentic faith. This was consistent with all his
speeches throughout his U.S. visit. Something I noticed was how unpolitical the
Pope was, even though he was speaking on politically charged issues. As
Catholics in the United States of America, we tend to see things is political
categories of liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. The Pope called
all people, regardless of their political leanings, to be authentic in how they
love their neighbor, to not let political alliances interfere with doing what
is good and just and right, and to work together toward the common good. He
spoke of the positive influence each person can have by bringing love to each
other, particularly in the family. I appreciated how he emphasized the good
that is possible, and how the gospel is so far beyond everyday politics.
When I was young, I was inspired by Pope John Paul II. As a
theologian, I was affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI. Now, I find myself motivated
by Pope Francis to live this faith in a radical way. Participating in this
papal visit was a true blessing, and an experience I will not soon forget.
This story originally
appeared in the Lakes Region Weekly.
Photo: Camilla Fecteau