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Reflections of the Papal visit

  • Pope Francis holds the hand of a student from the Convent of the Sacred Heart on 91st Street in New York

Several RSCJs were fortunate to attend various events surrounding the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. Following are some reflections shared by these sisters.

Reyna Gonzalez, RSCJ
I did not miss a single chance to listen to Pope Francis at each step of his U.S. visit, but nothing could compare to attending the Mass he celebrated at Madison Square Garden in New York. The words planted in me through his various presentations took root in a special way at this Mass. I felt especially inspired and hope-filled when he said:

Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections,” from abstract analyses or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work.

He challenged us (me) to reach out to the most vulnerable: children, elderly, immigrants and even our earth. We already walk the same streets, but we walk like the apostles on the road to Emmaus. We do not recognize Jesus in the people with whom we share this road, this liberating path of salvation.

I feel the importance of re-embracing our call to let the world set our agenda as religious women and men. I felt him stir in me a renewed sense of commitment in my religious vocation to live an incarnate spirituality that seeks outward ways of living with hope, joy and connectedness.

It is sometimes difficult for people to find their home in the Church. Pope Francis left me with a profound sense of hope in the Church as institution and in the church as the people of God.

His spontaneous homily in Philadelphia at the Conference of Families holds an invitation, a challenge, for religious congregations, as well. The elderly, he said, are the memory and younger generations hold the strength to impel toward the future. Both are needed: memory and strength. This is our invitation as religious, as well. How can we hold the memory alive while also gathering the strength to move into the future in new ways because the world has changed and calls this forth from us.

As a Religious of the Sacred Heart, I am renewed in my vocation to live three Cs: compassion, commitment and communion.

Helen O’Regan, RSCJ
It was a long wait yet my desire was to be present as an expression of my gratitude for what he has been and done for the Life of the Spirit he has opened for us and so many in our “common home,” the earth. I had watched the virtual audiences and had heard his words of gratitude to the nuns and his “I love you!” At Vespers, he added: “Where would the Church be without you?”

For myself, I want to follow every “Thank you” I say with “I love you” – even if it is silent and with my eyes, bringing each one to prayer.

For the Society, I hear a call to find anew our place in the Church. The image of the mustard seed and its growth into a big tree comes to me as the Kingdom of God. Is our Church at the heart of the Kingdom? Let's not be afraid to be known as RSCJ wherever we serve and live.

The Pope’s visit for me is so linked to Marie (Maisie) Lufkin, RSCJ, leaving us for heaven – both an experience of Church at its depth – a life lived in the Spirit of God.

Jan Dunn, RSCJ
A most impressive moment during Evening Prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was Pope Francis thanking us, women religious, for all that we had done to build up the Church in the United States. His thanks were met with a standing ovation from the religious women in the congregation.

Two images from that evening that stand out for me are: the roar that erupted from the crowd on Madison Avenue when the Pope arrived and my view of the Pope praying during Vespers. From my pew, I could see him sitting on the side of the altar, leaning forward, as he offered evening thanksgiving to God.

Both images speak to me of the great grace of this visit of Francis: an encouraging visit by a simple, prayerful man. His visit touched the best in all of us, showed us the possibilities of goodness and kindness, of the freedom to be welcoming of divine presence in all persons and in the circumstances of life – those we foresee as well as the surprises.

Lori Wilson (JPIC committee/Greenwich)
Being in the presence of Pope Francis, who embodies the message of Jesus with courage and confidence, was both inspiring and personally challenging. His continual message is to remember the least among us and to work toward creating a just society.

The Mass at Madison Square Garden was followed by a weekend meeting of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Partners group. The two events were linked in many ways. As our group talked about goals for the JPIC office, Pope Francis' words kept sounding in my mind, and I kept thinking the same thing. If there was ever a time to capitalize on energy surrounding JPIC issues, it’s now with this Pope’s ongoing messages to the world and Laudato Si.

I was inspired to continue to stay focused on issues of justice and to bring others into the conversation. And I felt challenged to relook at all of my efforts to be sure my choices and my life reflect my beliefs. Do I reveal God’s heart in a wounded world?

Marilyn McMorrow, RSCJ
On the Feast of our Mother of Sorrows, 50 years to the day since I entered, I found out I would be given a ticket to the White House Greeting with Pope Francis and President Obama, and I was thrilled!

Before that, my participation in the Pope’s visit was teaching Laudato Si in both classes and hosting viewings in my faculty apartment of the Pope’s speeches to Congress and to the United Nations – for students fully prepped because they had just studied principles of Catholic Social Teaching and the encyclical.

So getting a ticket to the White House Ceremony was a joyful surprise.

The tickets came courtesy of Charles Kupchan, Georgetown professor serving as director of European Affairs at the National Security Council in the White House. He gave four to Professor Tony Arend, professor of International Law and director of the master’s program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. Tony, a devout Methodist, used to carry the New Testament in one suit pocket and the United Nations Charter in the other, but now has apps for that. He has made the spiritual exercises and attends Catholic Mass when not in his own home Methodist congregation near Annapolis.

Tony, in turn, gave one ticket to Matthew Carnes, SJ, a colleague in the government department and the School of Foreign Service, who focuses on Latin America. A third ticket went to Emma Iannini, GU student from Newtown, Conn., who heads Georgetown Against Gun Violence.

I give theses specifics because I love the way Tony thought through who (and which passions and perspectives) should be at the White House. I am so grateful he included me.

Barbara Rogers, RSCJ
Thanks to the generosity of Congressman Lynch and so many of you, I had the joy of being present in Congress for the Holy Father’s address. His words and his witness inspire and challenge all of us to deepen our commitment to living an authentic Christian life.

A striking moment in his remarks came after he discussed the plight of refugees and migrants throughout the world; he reminded Congress of the Golden Rule. It was as if the Pope was saying to Congress “This isn’t just me, or the Catholic Church saying this. Don’t dismiss this; this is what it means to be human. This is for every one of us.” Care for those in need is not some lofty religious principle. It is a call to act with basic human decency.

It was sobering to be reminded that the pursuit of the common good needs to be the impetus for all personal and political action. Francis urges us to adopt a person-focused approach to solving problems; when we consider the need of the person before us, ideology must take a back seat.

He held up in warm and inviting language Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton as examples of the richness of our history. I almost leapt out of my seat in the gallery when Pope Francis referred to Dorothy Day, a woman I have long admired. Chicago born and life-long New Yorker, Dorothy Day led a bohemian life working as a journalist and social activist before she converted to Catholicism. In discovering Christ she took to heart giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, care of the sick and comforting the imprisoned. There was a fierceness in her that stood up to injustices. To the end of her life she labored tirelessly on behalf of the oppressed.

In listening to Pope Francis in person and seeing him on television, I thought of an incident in Dorothy Day’s life. There was much talk of her good works. Many referred to her as a saint. This made her furious: “Don’t call me a saint! I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” In our admiration of Francis let’s resist the temptation to put him on a pedestal. I hope I can hear his message and his call for me, for us, to do more for the common good.

Imma De Stefanis, RSCJ, Executive Director of the Stuart Center in Washington, D.C.
Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. was replete with the invitation to constancy and change. The complement of constancy and change is a prevailing theme in several areas: Psychology, architecture, science, engineering, technology and organizational management, to name a few. Scientists are particularly interested in patterns of change which are distinguished in three general categories. Changes that: (1) are steady trends, (2) occur in cycles, and (3) are irregular. Constancy is represented through the concept of equilibrium. Contrary to popular perception, neither constancy nor equilibrium is characterized by inactivity. Holding steady during turbulent or subtle changes (times) requires action. Lifespan developmental psychologists speak of it in questions pertaining to human characteristics. How much can we (do we) change over time? Famed developmental psychologists, such as Baltes, Brim, Kagan and Lerner, speak of plasticity or “processes by which one develops one’s capacity to modify one’s behavior to adjust to, or fit, the demands of a particular context” (Richard Lerner). The key here rests with the capacity to modify one’s behavior in response to a particular context. Isn’t this what Pope Francis is imploring that we modify our behavior, redirect our steps, in response to economic injustices, immigration, racism and environmental crises in order to work for the common good of all? Throughout his visit, his messages largely focused on immigration and the environment, two areas struggling with the tension between constancy and change. He called Congress, and all of us, to move beyond paralysis and stalemates toward healing and inclusive dialogue. At the U.N., he stated that environmental destruction goes hand-in-hand with injustice, and pointed to a “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that fosters economic and social exclusion as a “grave offense against human rights and the environment.” In Philadelphia, he further punctuated his messages of religious freedom and inclusiveness to include the family as foundational to social responsibility. He asked that the gathered to “never be ashamed of your traditions … of what is part of you, your lifeblood.” Above all, Pope Francis appears to be quite the “radical Pope” breaking with certain traditions whether the red shoes cast aside at his installation as Pope or the Fiat dwarfed by large black SUVs. Despite this outward signs of change and his challenging messages, if one reads, listens and reflects deeply his most radical call to change is the call to constancy – to live with integrity the basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching which find their roots in Scripture and, perhaps more importantly, are principles equally embraced across many religious traditions. Perhaps what is most radical in Pope Francis is his utter humanity and authenticity, particularly in one with power and persuasion. What has become of us that to be human and sincere is radical? It is this “walking the talk” that also makes him so popular among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Our humanity is our constancy; to live it more fully and authentically is the change we may need to consider if we are to work together for peace, justice and inclusiveness.