Encountering Pope Francis

Loyola students and alumni joined the millions of pilgrims who found spiritual strength, insight, and inspiration through the Pope’s historic U.S. visit

By Rita Buettner

When the first Jesuit pope visited the United States and came within 40 miles of the first Jesuit university named for St. Ignatius of Loyola, the two were bound to connect.

As Pope Francis stopped in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, members of the Loyola University Maryland community traveled to see him, hear his message, and experience the excitement surrounding his historic visit.

Read on to find out how some Greyhounds participated in the Holy Father’s trip to the United States in September.

Bringing the Pope to Evergreen

Even students who couldn’t travel to see Pope Francis in person had an opportunity to celebrate his visit to the United States through a series of events on campus. Campus Ministry and the Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ) partnered to offer opportunities for students to come together to reflect and to celebrate Loyola’s Jesuit heritage, and how Pope Francis has brought global attention to the Jesuit mission and values.

Students gathered to watch the papal Masses in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as the Pope’s address to Congress. They were invited to respond to quotes from Pope Francis on various issues.

Campus Ministry, CCSJ, and other campus offices created PopeFest, a celebration to mark the Pope’s visit. Tables offered students Pope Francis cookies, bags of “Popecorn,” and games, including a “Pope or Nope?” trivia game.

Students could also purchase special Loyola commemorative T-shirts, with proceeds going to Jesuit Relief Services; sign a pledge to work to protect the environment; and learn more about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Every Baltimore TV station came to campus that week to interview students, administrators, and faculty experts on their thoughts on the Pope’s visit and what his trip and his leadership means to members of a Jesuit, Catholic university community.

“Something Greater than Myself”

With just four hours of sleep, Juliana Neves, ’18, boarded a bus with a group of Loyola students to travel to Philadelphia for the experience of a lifetime.

“The mix of praying and cheering, laughing and singing really made me feel we were camping out for the tickets to the religious rock concert of the century. Recitations of the rosary filled the air, along with impromptu Gospel recitals. I felt a sense of warmth around me, that I was a part of something greater than myself. I was part of history.”

The group of students found a spot on a curb, gathered with hundreds of others. As Pope Francis was passing, he stopped to kiss a baby and Neves captured the moment with a photo. Then the Mass began.

“It was as if the world stood still, holding its breath as to not miss a word of Pope Francis. During his homily he spoke of our duty to this world, specifically our duty to love,” she said.

Promoting Jesuit Education

As millions of commuters and pilgrims walked through 30th Street Station in Philadelphia during September, they passed a 70-by-50-foot ad featuring the world’s most famous Jesuit.

The idea for that ad was born in April when the chief marketing and communication officers from most of the U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities gathered at Loyola for an annual conference hosted by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU).

During a session on the plans for the first Jesuit pope’s visit to the United States, the conversation focused on how this moment offered an opportunity both to welcome Pope Francis to the U.S. and to speak about what being a Jesuit institution means.

Through a wonderful coincidence, before the Pope’s visit had been announced, St. Joseph’s University had purchased the ad space in the Philadelphia train station for September—and generously offered to sell the slot to the AJCU schools.

Bolstered with input from many colleagues at other institutions, the ad concept was created and the art was designed by Loyola’s office of marketing and communications.

That fantastic, dramatic photo was taken by Emily Griffin, a 2014 graduate of Loyola, when she was studying abroad in Rome the semester Pope Francis was elected. As the ad says, transformational leaders are #JesuitEducated.

A Hot Ticket

Pedro Vincenty, ’17, really wanted to see Pope Francis. But when Campus Ministry randomly drew names for the seats on Loyola’s buses to Philadelphia, Vincenty didn’t make the list.

Then he learned about one last chance—a drawing for a final seat on the bus at Loyola’s PopeFest the Friday before the Pope would visit Philadelphia. Vincenty’s friend, Jessica Offner, ’18, encouraged him to enter. In fact, she said, she would also enter and if she won, she would give him her seat.

She won—and suddenly Vincenty found himself with a seat to a historic moment. The students didn’t have tickets to the Mass itself, but they found spots on the street and watched the Pope pass.

“He was pretty close. At first you have that star-struck feeling,” said Vincenty. “I couldn’t keep track of how many babies he kissed. His whole Mass and homily was so intricate, and it really resonated with me.”

When the Mass was over, Vincenty sent Offner a text message expressing his gratitude.

“It was almost like I was meant to go.”

“I Felt So Whole”

When Tara Villaruel, ’18, heard that Pope Francis was coming, she knew she wanted to find a way to be part of his visit. She did some research and found out she could volunteer to help with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

“The woman in charge of it told me I was one of the first people to sign up,” she said. “When I found out that I had been picked, I was so ecstatic. My heart was in the sky. God means so much to me, and to be able to see the Pope, and possibly to meet him, as well, would literally be the world to me.”

That Sunday, Sept. 27, Villaruel was assigned to be a communion assistant during the Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. She stood holding an umbrella over a priest as he was distributing communion.

“I had a really good view of the altar. It was fantastic,” said Villaruel, who lives in Ridgewood, N.Y. Even though her phone died during the day, she captured a video of the Pope driving past. But her memories are the real treasure from the day.

“To be a part of helping out, it was so uplifting,” she said. “After seeing the Pope up close and hearing him, I felt so whole. As I was leaving where the Mass was, I felt like the Holy Spirit was in me.”

Drawn by the Pope’s Message

Brother Christian Seno, OFM, who is beginning his third year as a member of the Order of Franciscans Minor in the Holy Name Province, joined his fellow friars and thousands of others for the Pope’s canonization Mass of a member of their order, St. Junipero Serra, an 18th century Franciscan friar who served in California.

“We were all seated together by the aisle, and the bishops were processing past. Cardinal Sean O’Malley (of the Archdiocese of Boston) and others were congratulating us on the new saint,” said Brother Christian, who is pursuing an M.A. in Pastoral Counseling in the faith and social justice track at Loyola.

At the Mass in Washington, D.C., Brother Christian sat with his fellow Franciscans in a pew at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as Pope Francis arrived and walked up the aisle toward the altar to bless them.

“It was such a tremendous experience. It was overwhelming in many ways, but positive. To experience being together with an entire church helps even people who don’t necessarily believe, but who are really drawn by Pope Francis’ message,” Brother Christian said. And Brother Christian was moved by the Pope’s message—and his visit.

“I like the fact that he’s not a pope who rests solely on doctrine, that he’s somebody who transcends and really talks about human relationships.”

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