This weekend was profound in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is one word that continuously pops into my head when I reflect on that weekend: community. The events, the emotions, the spontaneity all brought me back to this same experience of community.
I work for Campus Ministry as the hospitality intern and my job last weekend was entirely focused on welcoming and hosting 130 students from four other Jesuit schools including Creighton, Georgetown, John Carroll and Canisius. These 130 pilgrims, as they referred to themselves, came not only to see Pope Francis, but to encounter Christ in a very real, tangible way through the community of 130 other Jesuit pilgrims on the same journey. To begin the weekend, we had over 20 SJU students as part of an SJU Host Team to welcome each of the schools as they came. I was floored as I watched each and every one of them drop everything for the sake of making these pilgrims feel welcomed here. There was hospitality and welcome in the air as we watched Pope Francis drive by three times and wave his gentle wave.
One of the most sacred moments for myself was sitting in the candle-lit chapel with these students, in perfect silence as we prayed an Ignatian examen together. As I looked around me, I saw each person bowed in sincere reflection and my heart was moved. I was completely surprised by the intention and joy each person brought with them. It brought me back to the whole reason why we were here that weekend. Not just for Pope Francis, not just for the fun of the trip, but for the community. It was in the community that we each witnessed the face of God. If that’s not the magis, I don’t know what is.
Sunday was another day filled with surprises. I decided to stay back at the school in case anything went wrong with the 130 pilgrims as they walked to the papal mass and the other 200 Saint Joe’s students who were volunteering. News got out quickly that Pope Francis himself was coming to our campus. I got to campus at 11am that morning and waited with hundreds of others as more and more came to welcome Pope Francis. As the time drew near, we were all excited. When he finally arrived around 3pm, we all felt the emotion of experiencing history on our very own campus. Not only this, but Pope Francis took a moment of silent prayer in front of the newly blessed Nostra Aetate statue and the people followed in his example. There was something very sacred about experiencing silence with this community. Silent moments were few and far between that weekend so to experience this amidst hundreds of people was not only miraculous but revelatory of the power of community. That morning I woke up not knowing if I would see Pope Francis again. That evening I went to bed overwhelmed, reflecting on the ineffable beauty and surprising joy of that entire day. Our God is a God of surprises!
Meanwhile, I got word that the 200 volunteers from SJU were turned away from their volunteer positions because the coordinators of all the volunteers realized they had overbooked. Walking away disappointed and upset, the students gathered by the Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Go figure, Pope Francis has a special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots and decided to make an unscheduled visit to this grotto. So these students, walking away with the thought that they would not get to see Pope Francis, ended up in tears as he walked nearly 3 feet in front of them to pray. As if it God didn’t make it well known by this point: our God is a God of surprises.
What I love about Pope Francis is that though millions were gathered to see him, in his humility he consistently pointed his service and their praise back to God. He truly embodies the Jesuit ideals most particularly doing everything for the greater glory of God. He brought together millions from all walks of life to celebrate community and to remind us of why we do what we do here at SJU. We love, we welcome, we embrace: all for the greater glory of God. This is why I am forever grateful to be a Hawk.