It’s been a little over a week since Pope Francis visited Philadelphia, and I still can’t stop replaying scenes from those two days over and over again in my mind.
I was in the vicinity of Pope Francis’s incredibly moving speech at Independence Hall. I teared up when he closed with an Our Father in English, and nearly again when he waved and drove by where I was camped out in Franklin Square, to watch the speech on a Jumbotron.
I was there when he drove up and down the Ben Franklin Parkway just after twilight’s waning, smiling and waving to thousands of people hoping to get one glimpse of him, and to capture it on their smartphones.
I was there when he spoke about the importance of family that same night at the Festival of Families, when he made jokes about in-laws and pretended to not know what time Mass was the next day (oh Francis, you jokester, you!).
I was there at the Papal Mass the next day, watching as families camped out for hours by the thousands—with blankets spread and posters made and card games going and flags from around the world flying—all because one man had unified the Church with a spirit unlike any previous pope before him, and was doing so in our very own city.
I refreshed Twitter over and over that day as I waited for the Papal Mass to begin, eagerly waiting for news of Pope Francis’s visits to my friends from my Inside-Out class at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and at our own university.
To say that I have been ten feet from Pope Francis in my hometown is an incredible honor.
To say that I was involved in it, somehow, is just as incredible an honor, and to be involved in it professionally is even more so remarkable and humbling.
This past summer and part of this semester, I interned for the Office for Communications of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Among writing some press releases, contributing to social media accounts, writing regularly for their news blog (CatholicPhilly.com) and other tasks, I got to see the makings of a worldwide event from behind the scenes—from a communications, PR, and journalism standpoint.
One of my biggest takeaways was simply learning by observing: observing how many meetings and minute details went into this visit, how many thousands of journalists had to obtain media credentials (and how much time registering them and sorting them all took), how much coordinating it took with the City of Philadelphia, the Secret Service, and so many innumerable other forces; the list goes on and on and on. There is never a dull moment in the field of communications: there is always someone to call, someone that needs a question answered, something missing, someone to meet with, someone with a complaint, something going wrong, something going perfectly right. It is a beautiful synergy of well-executed chaos, with everything happening at the exact same time.
For my internship, I got to go to a few press conferences as significant updates were released about events relating to the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, such as the launch of the Latino Papal Fund, and the first release of transportation information for that weekend.
I got to watch as a 6ABC reporter filmed a segment about St. Charles Seminary and the grounds where Pope Francis would be staying, about two months before it actually happened.
I got to escort members of the media around at the World Meeting of Families conference, and watch as media folks from around the globe poured into the Media Filing Center at the Convention Center during the week—each hoping to file away some groundbreaking tidbit about the papal visit. And though it isn’t much, the little piece of plastic hanging around my neck that acted as my credential for the week made me feel like I was part of something larger—that through my routine intern tasks and observations, I somehow knew what was going on just a little bit more than the person across the other side of the media help desk from me. I was a part of it, somehow.
I felt like a real journalist when I wore a different piece of plastic that identified me as a freelance online writer for CatholicPhilly—when it gave me standing to ask people in the crowd questions for my articles about their experiences, their opinions on Pope Francis, on what this whole event meant for the world. It’s not much, but knowing my words were connected to something greater than myself is a small victory that showed me I have the power to write like that for the rest of my life, if I desire.
Though my role was minute in the grand scheme of things and wasn’t always as glamorous as it may sound now on paper, interning for the Archdiocese still gave me an incredible exposure to what a career in communications might mean. I am still not exactly sure what I want to do with my life, but I would hope that it would involve writing or communications somehow—preferably incorporating those skills into a career that would allow me to work for social justice.
Having an internship is one of the most fulfilling ways to live out experiential learning, something that is pushed here at SJU. This internship has allowed me to see what I like and what I don’t, what I need and what I want, where I can improve and where I’m doing just fine. But had I not plunged into it, I would never know what it would be like, potentially, to work at for the communications office of a large church-based organization. Whether it be in the form of an internship, a service-learning class, a networking event, presenting at a conference, or something entirely else, the best way to learn how to start doing something professionally is simply to go out there and start doing it. Even if the doing is small, even if it doesn’t seem like you are absorbing anything—you are, without a doubt, doing so, even if it is unknowingly.
As my good friend Pope Francis once said, ““Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him. The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful. And this occurs through a rich path made up of many ingredients. This is why there are so many subjects — because development is the results of different elements that act together and stimulate intelligence, knowledge, the emotions, the body, and so on.”
Indeed, education isn’t neutral, but it instead points us to the good and the beautiful. It has pointed me to the truth in my own life, and how I came to find it through that rich path of many ingredients. My education here at SJU has allowed me to grow, and be corrupted by the idea that I can somehow make a difference in this world. And I find that it has been in my education outside of the classroom, this foray into experiential learning (particularly through my internship), that has been most beneficial for the care of my whole person throughout my college career.