Pope’s U.S. visit resonates on campus

Pope Francis’ historic first visit to the United States was well documented.

He was all over the television news channels, newspapers, radio and social media, even Snapchat.

Simply put, his visits to Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia were a big deal.

While his tour in the United States didn’t leave the East Coast, his presence was felt throughout the country, including Detroit and especially within the UDM community, given his Jesuit ties.

“Every time a pope comes, there’s excitement about that because he’s a big figure,” said the Rev. Tim Hipskind, S.J. “I think there was more interest in this visit.”

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded streets to catch a glimpse of Francis. While Hipskind was not among them, he said his niece, who lives in Washington, stayed up all night to get a front row seat just to see him for five seconds.

Mike Rogers, a former Jesuit Volunteer at UDM who now lives in Washington, saw the pope’s speech at the White House on Sept. 23. Rogers’ aunt was invited to attend by her congressman and was able to get an extra ticket for Rogers.

Rogers arrived when the gates opened at 5:30 a.m. and waited in a security line for about an hour to get in. He was directed to find a spot on the South Lawn and waited patiently for the pope to arrive.

“It was pretty nonchalant until he (Pope Francis) got there,” he said. “When he did, people just started going crazy. President Obama gave a very nice welcoming speech. Then the pope gets up there and everyone just went dead silent. Dead silent, thinking, ‘What’s he going to say?’”

The pope said that as a son of an immigrant family, he was happy to be a guest in a country that was built by such families.

“You felt like you were witnessing something,” Rogers said. “It was amazing.”

While the pope’s speech wasn’t long, his message was still powerful, Rogers felt.

This was not the first time he had seen a pope in person. In high school, Rogers saw Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium but didn’t get as close-up as he did with Francis.

The combination of seeing the pope and the president and being at the White House made for a “wonderful visit” for Rogers.

He also saw the pope after he came out of the Capitol after addressing Congress. He was struck when Francis asked those in the crowd to pray for him and how he also asked those who cannot pray to send good wishes.

“I thought that was just so beautiful because he was able to include everybody,” Rogers said. “Everybody felt happy, everybody laughed when he said that. He’s a pastoral figure.”

At Lansing-Reilly Hall, home to UDM’s Jesuit community, there also was a certain buzz in the air throughout the week as a fellow Jesuit was at the center of the nation’s attention, said Hipskind.

UDM President Antoine Garibaldi even had a welcome message for Francis on the university’s website.

“It is our hope that Pope Francis will further inspire us in our efforts to advance social justice, religious and cultural understanding and especially service to those who are not blessed with abundance,” Garibaldi said in a statement

Hipskind said he was excited that the university connected the meaning of a Jesuit education to the pontiff.

“He (Pope Francis) is starting the year of mercy,” said Hipskind. “It’s fascinating how much of what he’s saying is a great combination of our Jesuit and our Mercy traditions.”

Rogers also said he could pick up on Francis’ Jesuit values during his visit.

“So much of what the Jesuits imparted to me both at Holy Cross and at UDM, and to also my fellow JVs, not just the ones I lived with but the ones before me or after me and ones that I meet, is that there’s this real honest, earnest desire to engage people where they’re at,” Rogers said. “I think that is something that is really lacking today.

“I think that the pope is really willing to enter into a relationship with people. In part, I think that’s why people are responding to him. He’s doing these things because he believes in them and he wants to bring other people in, not necessary to evangelize. He talks about the church being a field hospital, messy, but one that’s taking in people and not turning folks away. ‘Let’s get everyone to the tent and then we’ll figure it out.’”

University Ministry held a watch party when Francis addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress, the first pope to do so.

Hipskind also paid attention to his address and as much of the rest of the events as he could.

“I saw the address to Congress, the whole thing, and then I would watch nightly summaries on the news and read the accounts in the papers to see how other people were perceiving,” Hipskind said.

Hipskind said he was glad to hear Francis speak about President Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. but was particularly excited to hear him point out Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, two other Americans who aren’t as widely known.

“I’m not sure how many people know about them,” he said. “They’re Catholic and they are in touch with some of the depth of our Catholic traditions that a lot of people just don’t know about.”

Hipskind noted that by doing so, Francis reaffirmed that there’s not only a lot of good going on in the United States, but also challenged the country to continue in the footsteps of those four.

For Hipskind, who is director of service learning at UDM, the pope’s message about helping others resonated.

“His presentations are all just of oriented towards outreach,” he said. “He’s presenting the Gospel as good news. It lifts everybody up, which we haven’t heard for awhile. I’m not denigrating previous popes. They were doing what needed to be done at the time but this is really needed. People need to hear that there’s good news, and he’s doing it. We’re supposed to be about outreach and we have something to share with the world that can make a huge difference. It can bring healing. It can bring hope.”

Since being elected to the papacy, Francis has been noted for his simplistic lifestyle. This was on full display when the car that he rode in after landing in the United States was a small Fiat 500L.

Hipskind said that while, at the moment, he considered Francis’ visit a success, it’s what comes next that’s key.

“I suppose it would be helpful to see what are the ripple effects,” he said. “If there are no ripple effects, well, how can you say it was successful? … I suspect that there will be ripple effects, that people will come back to the church, people will be motivated to do things that maybe they hadn’t done before.”

As for what Francis has to do in the future, Hipskind kept it simple.

“Just keep doing what he’s doing,” he said. “Just by where he goes and what he talks about, he draws attention.”