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Jesuits and Colleagues in the U.S. Excited to Welcome, Connect with Pope Francis during Historic Visit

September 22, 2015 — When Pope Francis arrives in the United States later today for his historic first visit, Jesuits and their collaborators will be marking the occasion in numerous ways in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia — as well as all across the country.

The pope’s six-day trip is packed with events, from meeting with immigrants and homeless people served by Catholic Charities to addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress. And the Ignatian world is whole-heartedly embracing his visit at each stop of his journey.

On Wednesday morning, Pope Francis will head to the White House for a welcoming ceremony and a meeting with President Obama. He’ll get an enthusiastic, and rather large, greeting: the White House is opening its back lawn to some 15,000 people. Among the invited guests is Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Father Thomas Reese, SJ, senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter, and Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Before he even sets foot in the White House, the pope is sure to get a warm welcome from crowds gathered outside, which will include a faculty member and group of students from nearby Georgetown Preparatory School.

Later that afternoon, the pope will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to canonize 18th-century Spanish missionary Blessed Junípero Serra. He’ll arrive in the popemobile and be greeted by seminarians and novices, among them 17 Jesuit novices and novice director Father James Carr, SJ. “This is in part a way of highlighting the Year of Consecrated Life and the importance of vocations to the future of the church,” said Father Michael Boughton, SJ, assistant for formation for the Jesuits’ Maryland and Northeast Provinces.

The Mass, Pope Francis’ first in the U.S., will include an iron cross provided by Georgetown University that historians believe came over to Maryland from England with the first settlers in 1634. The cross, which will be on the altar of the basilica, bears a fitting Latin inscription, “Ad perpetuam rei memoriam” or “For the eternal memory of this event.”

“It is an immense honor that Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, will use Georgetown's iron cross in his Mass at the Basilica during his first visit to the United States,” says Father G. Ronald Murphy, SJ, a professor in the German department at Georgetown, who rediscovered the forgotten cross in storage on Georgetown’s campus. “The cross was more than likely the one used in the first Catholic Mass on English-speaking American soil, and so represents the freedom of religion upon which this country was built, later echoed by Georgetown's invitation to educate students of all faiths from its beginnings in 1789.”

In addition, Normand Gouin, assistant chaplain and director of liturgy and music at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has composed the hymn that will be played during three Masses the pope will celebrate during his visit. Gouin, who spent months crafting “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom,” said that he hopes the hymn will “give people a sense of renewed hope.” 

On Thursday, Sept. 24, all eyes will be on Pope Francis when he addresses a joint session of Congress in a historic event bringing together faith and politics. The invitation came from House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, an alumnus of Xavier University in Cincinnati. Boehner’s Jesuit background also led him to name Father Patrick Conroy, SJ, as the 60th Chaplain of the House of Representatives.

Jesuits are among those who received invitations to attend the address, the hottest ticket in town. Father Karl Kiser, SJ, president of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, will be in the chamber for the event as a guest of Senator Gary Peters, as will Father Philip L. Boroughs, SJ, president of the College of the Holy Cross, at the invitation of Congressman Jim McGovern.

“As a member of the Society of Jesus, I am honored to be able to attend this historic occasion. Clearly, being present when Pope Francis addresses Congress is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Fr. Boroughs. “I am most grateful to Congressman McGovern for inviting me and look forward to hearing the Holy Father share with the American people his vision for engaging significant opportunities and crises facing the global community today.”

While they won’t be inside, a group of nine lucky Saint Louis University students will watch a live broadcast of the address on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The pope is expected to also make a live appearance on the lawn during his visit to the city.

Invitations to the address are hard to come by, so the Ignatian family is embracing the event in another way: through papal watch parties organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN), a national social justice network inspired by the spirituality of the Jesuits.

A group of Saint Louis University students traveling to Washington, D.C.

There will be over 300 “Pope2Congress” watch parties, with many to be held at nearly 60 different Jesuit parishes, high schools and universities in the U.S.  In total more than 30,000 people across the country will be participating, with over 13,000 of them being at Jesuit institutions.  

“Pope Francis will illuminate Catholic Social Teaching when he addresses Congress. His message will serve as an invitation to Catholics, members of Congress and all Americans to respond to the realities of the world with compassion and a spirit of solidarity,” said ISN executive director Christopher Kerr.

During his visit to New York City, 75 members of the Xavier High School community will watch the pope’s motorcade on Fifth Avenue, just before his Evening Vespers service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sept. 24.

When the pope visits Philadelphia for the last leg of his trip, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School will have a front-row seat. Located less than two miles from the pope’s major events, the school is taking full advantage of their location — and extending it to other Jesuit high schools through their “2Philly4Francis” pilgrimage. Over 300 students from 42 Jesuit high schools will travel to the Prep for the papal pilgrimage, during which students have the opportunity to attend three papal events, including the Mass that concludes the World Meeting of Families at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

High schools sending pilgrims include Boston College High School; Creighton Preparatory School (Omaha, Nebraska); Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School; Jesuit College Preparatory of Dallas; Jesuit High School (Tampa); Rockhurst High School (Kansas City, Missouri); St. Ignatius College Preparatory (San Francisco); and Seattle Preparatory School.

Pilgrims from St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco who will participate in the 2Philly4Francis pilgrimage.

Colleges and universities will also be represented at various events, such as Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, which will send a group of about 30 students and professors to Philadelphia to attend the Mass on Sunday.

“Many of us are really excited to get a chance to see the Pope,” said Jamey Brogen, the director of campus ministry. “I think this pope, especially, has really captured a lot of us with his personable style.”

Fifty students from Creighton University in Omaha will also travel to see the pope celebrate Mass in Philadelphia. “When I found out I was going on this trip I texted my mom and told her and she probably cried," said Eleanor Titiml, a senior at Creighton.

A smaller event with Jesuit representation will occur at St. Charles Seminary on Saturday, Sept. 26. Twenty-three Jesuit scholastics will be at the seminary to welcome Pope Francis with the seminarians of the Archdiocese. 

And the Jesuit world will be anxiously waiting to see if the pope makes an unscheduled stop at a Jesuit community, parish or school during the trip, as he has often done in the past. Just this past Sunday, he stopped at a Jesuit parish in Havana while in Cuba.

Pope Francis with almost all the Jesuits in Cuba and some friends at a Jesuit parish in Havana. (Photo courtesy of L'Osservatore Romano)

Father Kevin O'Brien, SJ, vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown University, summed up the pope's appeal as the U.S. gets ready to welcome Pope Francis: “Francis is a pastor ... he's looking at not just the Catholic Church but the world as his flock and he's caring for them ... and he seems to do it one person at a time.”

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