In the weeks leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, a hashtag began to surface on social media: #PopeIsHope.
I’ve been a fan of Pope Francis since the day he was elected; seeing him emerge on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square and ask for prayers struck my heart as a deeply humble and holy act. Following his actions and words over the years, I didn’t think I could like the Pope any more than I already did. Then Pope Francis came to Philadelphia.
Watching him with the College community on a big screen in the East Parlor as he spoke to Congress, I nodded in agreement. Helping students take pictures with his cardboard cutout as they filled out letters to legislators and wrote down their burdens on pieces of cloth to be displayed downtown as part of the Mary, Undoer of Knots shrine, I marveled at the energy and excitement in the air. Then, Francis arrived in Philadelphia.
Saturday morning, I stood with 1,200 other people at Villanova University at 4 a.m. waiting for a bus to go to Mass at the Cathedral. Arriving downtown by 8 a.m., I marveled at the way the area had been transformed. Then I saw the intentions of our students and so many others woven together on the Cathedral’s façade. In the midst of TV cameras and a crowd screaming from behind the barriers, I took in the scene. These prayers would be blessed by Pope Francis, and soon enough, I would be too.
As the motorcade approached, a hush fell over the congregation. Soon the Pope would be here. People began to pray and as I silenced myself with the crowd, I moved to the back of the church. There, as Pope Francis entered the Cathedral, I stood to welcome him. I began to cry. This man whom I didn’t think I could like any more called forth something more – not just from me, but from Philadelphia.
To be honest, the weekend, for me, was a blessed blur. From the Cathedral and Independence Hall to the Festival of Families and Mass on the Parkway, I was there. Me – and all of Philadelphia.
“Faith opens the ‘window’ to the active presence of the Spirit and shows that, like happiness, holiness is always linked to small gestures,” Pope Francis said as he looked over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at the closing Mass of his visit to the United States on Sunday, September 27.
I heard those words from the cell phone of the man standing next to me on 21st Street as we watched side by side. We’d been standing there for four hours and still had a half hour before we would get onto the Parkway. Yet in a sea of people, we were together. Small gestures populated the weekend. Babies being kissed. Prisoners being hugged. Strangers sharing conversations and becoming friends. Knots of indifference, suspicion and judgment being untied by love.
“Faith grows with practice and is shaped by love,” Pope Francis said as he ended his homily on Sunday.
Love stands at the center of our being. Love is our Mission. That’s what we teach at Chestnut Hill College. It’s the spirit Pope Francis embodies that draws so many to him. It’s what I love about both Francis and CHC – A mission of love, set in our hearts and calling us always out into the world.
—Colleen Gibson, SSJ