Carmina Chapp, associate director of online theologyprograms, reflects on this historic occasion.
Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States was anamazing experience for me as a Catholic theologian. Having had the privilege ofrepresenting Saint Joseph’s College at the World Meeting of Families inPhiladelphia, I was able to attend the Papal Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkwayto conclude his visit. Throughout the week, I would catch highlights of the Pope’svarious 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 Timoneyserves as Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for theArchdiocese of Washington. It was herresponsibility to work logistics for the papal parade in Washington, D.C. Sheand her staff, and a myriad of volunteers, succeeded in making the event a safeand memorable experience for everyone.
“The crowds were huge, but the spirit was joyous!,” she toldme. “The ability for the Pope to be able to communicate ‘I hear you, I want toassure you that you are loved and not alone.’ For me, I feel like he is reallychallenging us to ask ourselves what we can do to encounter people in a waythat we imitate Jesus’ invitation to Come and See. What do they need to see orexperience in order to accept the invitation?”
She, along with another Saint Joseph’s colleague, Fr. FrankDonio, SAC, Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C.,provided commentary for the papal events for the United States Conference ofCatholic Bishops (USCCB), which streamed the Pope’s speeches live throughouthis stay in the United States.
During the Pope’s address to Congress, friends kept textingme that the Pope was talking about Dorothy Day – a personal hero of mine. Myhusband and I run the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeasternPennsylvania. It was quite affirming to hear him mention her. His words to thebishops of the United States were beautiful – urging them to pray and stayclose to Christ, looking to God for direction.
My niece texted me from New York City to tell me she got aglimpse of the Pope’s arm out the window of his Fiat. It was edifying to seethe younger generation take an interest in the papal visit. This was clearlythe case at the World Meeting of Families, where I met many young familiesexcited to see the Pope.
Attendees of the Papal Mass in Philadelphia filled the BenFranklin Parkway. Though there were hundreds of thousands of people of a widevariety of nationalities, you could still feel an intimacy. It was peaceful,and people were kind to one another. There was a reverent atmosphere throughoutthe Mass. Even though the Pope was almost a mile away from where I wasstanding, I was participating in the celebration as if he were right in frontof me. We all were, responding to the Mass parts and standing and kneeling atthe appropriate times, just as if we were in a church (of course, the jumbotronhelped!). It was a tremendous experience of the universality of Catholicism.
In his homily, Pope Francis warned us not to be “scandalizedby the freedom of God who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousalike” and called us to an authentic faith. This was consistent with all hisspeeches throughout his U.S. visit. Something I noticed was how unpolitical thePope was, even though he was speaking on politically charged issues. AsCatholics in the United States of America, we tend to see things is politicalcategories of liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. The Pope calledall people, regardless of their political leanings, to be authentic in how theylove their neighbor, to not let political alliances interfere with doing whatis good and just and right, and to work together toward the common good. Hespoke of the positive influence each person can have by bringing love to eachother, particularly in the family. I appreciated how he emphasized the goodthat 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 atheologian, I was affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI. Now, I find myself motivatedby Pope Francis to live this faith in a radical way. Participating in thispapal visit was a true blessing, and an experienceI will not soon forget.
This story originallyappeared in the Lakes Region Weekly.
Photo: Camilla Fecteau