Holiness and Hype: Should students care about Pope Francis’ visit?

At Independence Hall, city tour guide Ed Mauger briefs international media representatives and Rider student journalists on Sept. 22 about the pope’s upcoming visit this weekend.
At Independence Hall, city tour guide Ed Mauger briefs international media representatives and Rider student journalists on Sept. 22 about the pope’s upcoming visit this weekend.

By Shanna O’Mara

San Francisco lawyer and political leader Angela Alioto admits she is “obsessed” with Pope Francis. The self-described “street scholar of St. Francis of Assisi,” her city’s patron saint, Alioto remembers how she craved a special relic the day she met the first pope to take the name Francis.

“I was at the two-day seminar on climate in Rome,” Alioto said. “He was sitting right in front of me, drinking a bottle of water, and I was giving him all sorts of signs like ‘can I take your bottle?’”

She took it.

College students mostly shrug at the news Pope Francis will bring some mixture of chaos and gridlock to Philadelphia this weekend, but close observers like Alioto think this pope and this visit will be monumental.

Pope Francis’ fame has grown out of surprising policy stands and his unconventional way of addressing the public. Rather than deliver a speech from behind bulletproof glass, he frequently chooses to greet his followers personally, insisting on leaving the safety of his popemobile to shake the hands of those who travel so far to see him.

Rider is taking part. About 15 communication students will be practicing their reporting, photography, videography and social media skills during Sunday’s events.

Sophomore journalism major Hayley Fahey says she looks forward to hearing what this world leader has to say.

“I’m very excited to see the pope, even if it is on one of the 40 Jumbotrons around the city,” she said. “Just to be in the same area as such an influential figure is truly an honor.”

This weekend, people from all around the globe will be traveling to Philadelphia to see His Holiness. He will speak in front of Independence Hall, where audiences will gather on the “most historical square mile in the United States,” said Christina Cassidy, tourism communications coordinator at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors’ Bureau.

“It is a huge event,” said Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Julia Terruso, who has been covering the pope’s visit since the spring. “The city is going to see unprecedented street closures and security perimeters to accommodate and support crowds unseen in decades.”

Alioto says there are other reasons the college generation should care.

“He’s accepting,” she said, “and young kids have a lot of problems. Maybe they feel they don’t always do what they should. They’ll see that this is a man who will forgive them, no matter what religion they are.”

The pope has been known to grant penance for all sinners, even those who cause controversy. He, unlike many other religious leaders, has dealt with such issues as divorce, immigration, climate change and poverty.

“When you make that circle from the climate affecting the poverty level in the world,” Alioto said, “You see that he’s combined the environment and taking care of the poor like St. Francis did.”

On Sept. 24, the pope will speak with Congress about such issues. Many of his hope the American government unites and moves forward on the people’s issues.

Alioto also expects the pontiff to address the current crisis of Syrian migrants seeking shelter.

“I’m sure in the United States, he will be talking about every country that we have conflicts with,” she said. “or countries that are poorer than we are, so we can help get out of their conflicts, their civil wars. I think his message will be one of getting together as one and trying to help each other get out of the horrors of war”

Not everyone is so enthused about the pope’s visit.

“The pope has always been important in world affairs,” said philosophy Professor Richard Burgh. “He’ll give the U.S. a moral lecture, but it’s not his place to do that.”

Philadelphia may be the ideal city to welcome the pope, with its rich historical culture and influence on the rest of the country. On Sunday, the pope will celebrate the papal Mass on Eakins Oval, in front of the Rocky steps.

“There are very few countries in the world that he could go to where people actually could make a difference,” Alioto said. “The United States can. [The pope] has a message to deliver: stop talking, and take action. Lean over and help someone. That’s the big message. We need to change.”

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