Several members of the Newman Society, the Tri-College’s Catholic organization, travelled into Philadelphia this weekend to hear Pope Francis speak at the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
The pope, who arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, had a busy itinerary as he conducted two masses, visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, and addressed a crowd at Independence Mall.
The pontiff, 78, also made many other impromptu stops during his two-day stay, such as kissing babies as he rode through the city of brotherly love in his popemobile.
“It was also so surreal seeing [the pope] in person when he drove by in the popemobile,” said Jeanna Kenney ’16, who attended Sunday’s Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “I’ve never felt so blessed to see the back of someone’s head!”
In order to get into the city, students purchased special SEPTA “Papal Passes” earlier this week. Most of the main roads into the city were closed to traffic in anticipation of the event, which was expected to draw over one million people from around the globe.
Some members of the Newman Society also gathered at Bryn Mawr to watch the live-stream of Sunday’s Papal Mass. Others who could not make the trek into Philly followed the extensive social media coverage of the World Meeting of Families.
“I really admire the fact that, even though millions of people came out to see him, he made a sincere effort to focus on individuals,” said Molly Allen ’16, who did not travel into the city to see the pope but watched live coverage of the event. “He is so personable and works so hard to connect with people from all walks of life, which is exactly what a pope should do.”
Exhibiting an impressive knowledge of American history, the Argentinian-born pope addressed a crowd of approximately 40,000 Saturday at Independence Mall. Noting that the rights on which the United States was founded need to be consistently reaffirmed and renewed, Francis spoke of freedom and the acceptance of all peoples and religions.
“We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at the successive waves of new Americans,” Francis said.
At Sunday’s mass, the pope again emphasized tolerance of other religions as well as the importance of valuing and appreciating one’s family.
“Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches.”
Robert Borek ’19, who ventured into the city with eight other Newman members on Saturday, was particularly moved by the camaraderie of the experience.
“When Pope Francis led the crowd reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I felt truly loved and in communion with the people around me,” said Borek.
Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr, also made it into the city for the event. In addition to teaching, Francl writes for CatholicPhilly, the online news outlet for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“I was heartened by the pope’s messages of inclusion, of looking at people of all faiths as sharing a common care for the transcendent,” reflected Francl, who also wrote about the pope’s visit in AL DIA news, Philadelphia’s Spanish language paper, this weekend.
Haverford Assistant Professor of Religion Molly Farneth was also struck by Francis’ enduring message of inclusion, which imbued all of his speeches during his stay in the U.S.
“In his speech to Congress, for instance, he elevated the themes of human dignity, solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and dialogue across difference — straight out of Catholic social teaching — by talking about four great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton,” said Farneth.
“I think one of the greatest things about Pope Francis is that he has such a widespread appeal and commands a great deal of respect,” added Kennedy. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the Catholic faith, as with any religion, and I think Pope Francis has done a great job to dispel some of those and not let them be a distraction.”
According to its website, The World Meeting of Families is “the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.” The event, which is held every three years, has a different theme for each gathering. The theme for this year’s gathering in Philadelphia was: “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
The next World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin in 2018, church officials announced yesterday.