By Elizabeth Morris and Frances Johnson
Muller Chapel was filled with the sounds of voices echoing, laughter and spoons clinking against bowls of chili during the Ithaca College Catholic Community’s soup supper. The excitement of the trip to see Pope Francis still lingers — heads turned and looked up, enraptured, as freshman Mary Stephenson began describing her visit to Philadelphia last weekend.
“I can’t even describe how cool it was to be worshipping with so many Catholics, seeing the Pope,” Stephenson said with a bright smile on her face. “It was just a really touching experience that I’ll never forget, really.”
Stephenson was one of 220 Catholics who planned to travel together to Philadelphia on Sunday, Sept. 27 to see Pope Francis during Mass. But with only 10 hours to go, three of four buses delayed and one bus not showing up at all, some worried that they were would not arrive in time.
As Ithaca College junior Nick Davis described being only feet away from Pope Francis, his face lit up with visible excitement.
“For being really late, we kind of lucked out because by the time we got there, the subway had no lines. We got right in and security was really quick compared to other people,” Davis said. “I don’t know if you’ve seen on CNN when the Pope would drive by and the lines of people. So the group of people I was with, we got lucky. We were three or four people back; we got really, really close to him.”
Three full buses left for Philadelphia, the last leaving around 8:30 a.m. The delay resulted in two buses reaching the security checkpoint only an hour before Mass was set to begin, but many were still able to get inside and a few were able to see Pope Francis up close.
Cornell University and Ithaca College Catholic Community students joined with members from parishes around town and travelled to Philadelphia to see the Pope perform Mass in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Pope Francis’s comments on issues like the environment, LGBT community and the death penalty have struck a chord with many Ithaca Catholics.
“Part of what Pope Francis is doing is taking that thing that’s in the back of your head that you don’t really think about, and bringing it to the forefront and bringing it to a situation where you have to confront it,” David Holmes, a campus minister for the Ithaca College and Cornell University Catholic Community, said.
Teresa Clark, a biology and art double major with a minor in environmental studies, could not be happier with how Pope Francis addressed the need to take action on climate change. As a staunch supporter of the environment, Clark feels a connection with the Pope because of their mutual concerns.
Clark said that the Pope brings up “issues that we all felt strongly about, but weren’t always on the forefront, are now coming there.”
Planning the trip to Philadelphia was a long process that began in April. Joseph Mazzawi, Associate Director for Cornell and Ithaca College Catholic Community, worked with Ann Marie Eckert — pastoral associate of St. Catherine of Siena Parish — to get buses for those who were interested in seeing Pope Francis. Mazzawi and Eckert originally reserved three buses, but that was not enough.
“Eventually though, the response was stronger than we thought it would be and we ended up having to reserve a fourth bus,” Mazzawi said.
This immense response is in part because of the impact Pope Francis has had on Catholics in the community. Pope Francis’s approach towards many issues enables “people to be more receptive to the message that he speaks of than some of the previous popes,” Mazzawi said.
“Where he is trying to shine the focus of the church is a bit different than what has been done in the past, I don’t think it’s a change in doctrine, or anything like that, but he’s come out and said, I am not here to judge anyone, that’s not my place,” Holmes said.
Pope Francis’ messages about many controversial topics have increased the importance of many social issues.
Clark said the Ithaca College Catholic Community is “using the things the Pope has said in the past and especially on this visit as a lens for what to do for the semester.”
“I think it’s just refreshing to see, refreshing as a Catholic, to be in a place and a time where we can speak with a voice of hope, with a voice of encouragement to try to rally people of all faiths, of all backgrounds to really look at the social ills that are in our society and to bring about meaningful change,” Mazzawi said.