As many UD Romers know, an experience with the pope can be life-changing.
A few UD students were fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia last week to see Pope Francis as he visited America for the World Meeting of the Families.
Keelin Des Rosiers, a senior French and English major, was able to attend the closing Mass in Philadelphia on Sunday, Sept. 27 and see Pope Francis as he traveled down the street.
“I got really close to him when he drove by in his popemobile, but during the mass we were pretty far back,” said Des Rosiers.
But for Des Rosiers, Pope Francis was not the only inspirational figure in Philadelphia.
“It was really inspiring to see all the families present in Philly — it was full of parents, grandparents and children all full of joy to hear the pope’s message,” Des Rosiers said. “They were living witnesses to the pope’s message.”
During the Mass, she said, she began to contemplate the people around her.
“His message definitely made me rethink my relationships with the people around me — friends and family alike,” said Des Rosiers. “He told us that it was in the little things that the family is maintained, [such as] the smile a wife gives her husband in the morning or in the dishes a child washes for her parents. It made me want to smile at everyone around me.”
Des Rosiers said that the Mass was especially beautiful. She did not expect to receive communion due to the massive amount of people and her lack of a ticket.
“But during the ‘Our Father,’ hundreds and hundreds of priests came processing out of the Cathedral carrying hosts; apparently 850,000 [were consecrated]. Everyone who wanted to — with or without tickets — could receive; it was really beautiful.”
Another beautiful moment during the papal visit occurred in Washington, D.C. when Christian Esherick, brother of the late UD alumnus Andrew Esherick (class of 2012), waited in line to make contact with Pope Francis.
When Christian Esherick handed the pope a Christmas card with a family picture on it, the pope blessed both Christian and the picture.
“He just gave that almost fatherly look, that [indicated] he really cared about each and every individual,” Esherick told CBS News. “It was possibly the best moment of my whole life.”
Gracie Smart, a senior English and business major, had a similar experience during the Washington, D.C. trip. She journeyed to the nation’s capital with history professor Dr. Susan Hanssen, admissions counselor Courtney Grogan, juniors Katherine Klem and Mary Lindberg, and seniors Kathryn Mihaliak and Emily Lataif.
“The experience of encountering [the pope] in person never ceases to be inspiring,” said Smart in an email. “Each time I encounter him in person and receive that love, it’s impossible not to feel completely at peace and inspired to pass that love forward.”
She decided to go on a whim and was fortunate enough to get tickets to the canonization Mass of St. Juniperro Serra.
“This canonization Mass was particularly great because of how close our seats were,” said Smart. “We could see the Pope’s face the entire time, and it was just a beautiful experience.”
Smart said she was particularly struck by Pope Francis’ usage of St. Serra’s motto, “siempre adelante” (Spanish for “always forward”).
“The Pope encouraged us to imitate St. Junipero in being a constant witness to the joy of the Gospel in the lives of all people we encounter,” Smart said.
Kathryn Mihaliak recounted how the Washington, D.C. crew experienced a special moment when some of them sang outside the papal nunico’s residence, where Pope Francis was staying. For security reasons, they had to continuously walk around the building, but as they did so, they started singing songs to attract the pope’s attention. A figure in white soon appeared at the partially opened window and sat down.
Mihaliak also spoke of the incredible patience of the volunteers at the canonization Mass the following day.
“I never saw any of [the volunteers] lose their temper,” Mihaliak said. “They kept expressing to me how excited they were to see the pope…They were a complete and joyful presence.” She continued, “It was 26,000 people being joyful, excited and ecstatic about being Catholic … They weren’t trying to push an agenda, they were there because they are happy to be Catholic. It’s like being surrounded by Cistercians.”
Mihaliak appreciated seeing Pope Francis in a more human, grandfatherly way. “Usually we see him as this huge, larger-than-life figure, but when you actually see him, he needs help walking up to the pulpit to preach,” Mihaliak said. “he’s fragile … He’s like a grandpa.”
The University of Dallas had a further tie to the papal visit. John Henderson, brother of UD junior Stephen Henderson, composed original music for the pope’s visit at St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
John Henderson, who serves as the cathedral’s organist, is from Pensacola, Fla. and came to Washington, D.C. to study at the Catholic University of America.
“I was thinking about the pope’s love of simplicity, [so I composed] beautiful and simple [music],” Henderson said in an interview with the Washington Post.
Even students who were unable to be with the pope during his trip were affected by his visit to the United States.
Andrew Bugos, a senior politics major, was pleased that Pope Francis evaded polarization, but was disappointed by the secular response.
“First of all, I was impressed with his unique, nuanced consideration of modern problems,” Bugos said.
Bugos was impressed by Francis’ decision to meet with Cuban and U.S. leaders alike, following in the traditions of both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
“I was disappointed that the secular media portrayed his visit to Cuba in a negative light,” Bugos said. “[They interpreted] his visit as meaning he agrees with Cuba’s communist ideology.”
Rithi Demontero, a politics graduate student, considered the implications of the pope’s visit on the upcoming Synod of the family.
“He went to the Little Sisters of the Poor and reaffirmed the idea of religious conscience,” Demonteirio said. “He even said clerks had the right not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
Such facts seemed to be absent from media attention.
Almost all agree that the papal visit was special and, as Demonteiro said, “[The pope’s] generosity and warmth toward people could touch and inspire lives to come.”