Friday, Sept. 25, 18 students from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Institute of Art and Cleveland Institute of Music left Cleveland at around 8 p.m. and drove almost 15 hours through the night until they reached Philadelphia.
They drove all that way to see one of the world’s most recognizable people: Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is only the fourth pope to visit the United States. He arrived Sept. 22 in Washington D.C. and left on Sept. 27 from Philadelphia. During his visit, he met with President Obama, gave a speech to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in a joint session of Congress, attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York, visited a school and a correctional facility and ended by attending the World Meeting of Families.
Sharon Bramante, Newman Catholic Campus Minister and Riki Drout, a fourth-year student at CWRU, agreed on the two most memorable moments of their trip: the Papal parade outside of Independence Mall and the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families.
Bramante, Drout and seven other students were standing off of Market Street, outside Independence Mall, when the Pope drove by in the Pope-mobile. They were on the less crowded side of the street, right next to a family with a baby. And the Pope stopped. He got out of the car to kiss the baby’s forehead.
“He was like 15 feet from us,” Drout said. “I didn’t think going to Philadelphia on this trip I’d get to see him, you know. I didn’t think we’d be that close.”
“We were all speechless, we looked at each other and were just like, ‘oh, that just happened,’” Drout continued. “To be there with all the people and just the hush that came over everybody. Yeah we’re cheering and we’re really excited but there’s also this inner calm that we’re like…wow.”
“It’s really hard to describe,” she laughed.
Mass the next day happened around 4 p.m., with a huge number of people in attendance.
“[There were] thousands and thousands. They showed aerial coverage as it filled up,” Drout said. “I’ve never seen people so hungry for communion as I did there.”
Bramante, Drout and some other students were far back in the crowd, in the second row of people next to the fenced-off street, but even they were able to receive communion, Bramante said.
“I was actually with a small group of CWRU students who didn’t have tickets to get within the closer area—the ticketed area,” said Bramante. “But the people who were organizing the mass did such a good job of having extra people to distribute communion that they actually came all the way out to where we were, beyond the security area, and we got to receive communion.”
“It was really cool,” Drout said. “A priest actually climbed over the fence to go into the crowd. There was no opening for him to get in.”
Drout sees the pope’s leadership as expanding beyond Catholicism.
“[He’s] not just a religious leader, but also a leader of society,” Drout said. “Even people who are not Catholic are seeing the value in how he respects human life, trying to get respect for all people, and feeding the poor…He took the Oath of Poverty at 25 years old, and he says, you know, how we treat the poor is how we show our faith.”
Bramante also feels that the pope has widely applicable messages.
“Pope Francis’ message…really is a message of hope, of asking the human community to pull together and to really face some of the major crises that we’re going to have in the coming decades, around environmental destruction and climate change, and lack of water, and poverty,” said Bramante.