During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, DC, I had the incredible opportunity to attend some of his events. This was truly a remarkable experience, so I’d like to share some of my observations and reflections following his departure.
The first event I attended was the papal parade. Since security gates opened for the area at 4 a.m., some of my housemates and I decided to spend the night in line to get the best possible spot to see him. This was my first “all-nighter” experience! I am someone who regularly gets eight hours of sleep a night, so while I physically felt pretty badly, lining up with my friends and mutual Catholic family was amazing.
The people behind us in line had come up specifically from El Salvador to see the pope – how inspirational! All of our waiting paid off – we were at the very front and got some pretty great videos and pictures of Pope Francis as he drove by.
As great as the papal parade was, watching the pope give his address to Congress on the Capitol Hill lawn was my favorite experience. Thanks to one of my community members, we all got tickets to stand on the front lawn and listen to the pope’s speech on jumbotrons. If you haven’t already, you can read the full text of Pope Francis’s speech here. This was the perfect address to a Congress who is more divided now than ever.
One of the beautiful things about Pope Francis is that he knows how to talk about divisive issues while engaging people on both sides of any given issue. When he addressed Congress, he didn’t go in to tear people down or to condemn them for any reason.
He went in to build our politicians up by encouraging them to live up to their full moral potential. Furthermore, he did so in a way that captivated both Democrat and Republican, religious and non-religious, Catholic and non-Catholic.
My favorite part of his speech was the invocation of the Golden Rule. How is it that we have forgotten to treat our brothers and sisters with dignity and respect – the same way that we want to be treated? Pope Francis drew everyone’s attention to this fact and called us to resist the individualism that has permeated our society.
Pope Francis has made it difficult for people to look the other way in the face of injustice. In just two short days, he humanized people who have been demonized in recent political discourse (think immigrants, people in prison, and people experiencing homelessness) and has snapped our attention back to the humanity of every individual.
Following Pope Francis’s visit, my challenge to you (as well as to myself) is to be intentional about living what you believe. Acknowledge the person you normally look right through. If you are able, get involved in some sort of service to those who are less fortunate than you. Do your best to love someone who you don’t know or don’t want to love.
Try to live as your most authentic self and as a follower of Christ. As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress, “Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” Find out what that mission is, and pursue it!