By Shanna O’Mara
This weekend’s Philadelphia papal visit attracted crowds from across the globe, totaling over a half-million people, with college students making up a tiny percentage. Although members of this generation were few and far between, a few were found to have even more religious passion than the older majority.
Rider student journalists and photographers covered Sunday’s events, keeping an eye open for fellow collegians from local universities. They found few.
Most students stayed home or watched between NFL games from the comfort of their dorms, choosing to avoid the chaos that comes with a crowd, while some Catholic college and high school students from across the country attended the festivities.
“This is monumental,” University of Notre Dame student Matthew Brown, 21, said. “Pope Francis is such an inspiration, and it’s an amazing feeling being around 1 million Catholics. I don’t know why you wouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity, especially if you go to a Philadelphia school.”
Notre Dame sweatshirts and hats were scattered throughout the city as over 400 students traveled from Indiana to see the pope. Matt Gambetta, 19, attributed Francis’ fame to his liberal views on religious, political and social stances.
“What is different about this pope is that he has so much mass appeal compared to other pontiffs,” Gambetta said. “Francis especially appeals to the youth with problems such as poverty, which is apparently an issue which is important to us.”
As for the hundreds of thousands who flooded the streets of Philadelphia, Gambetta called it a “good turnout.”
“That’s more people than Jesus saw in his lifetime,” he said.
However, other attendees were surprised more young people did not come out to show support for His Holiness.
“There are definitely college groups,” George Elia, a 20-year-old Rutgers student, said. “But the majority of the people here are families and older people. Even politically speaking, the pope is a very important figure in the world. I think more people should have come.”
One group of high school students certainly got the memo and traveled more than 24 hours from Little Rock, Ark., with hopes of catching a glimpse of this world leader. Exhausted but optimistic, these students paid their own way to witness this “eye-opening experience” in a city filled with people of all religious backgrounds and beliefs.
Although the common thread among the audience members seemed to be support for the pope and Catholicism, a few outliers made their presence known. At 19th and Callowhill, where congestion built before access to the scene of the Mass, protesters yelled in the faces of followers, calling their pontiff idol the anti-Christ while suggesting they “walk in line to the slaughterhouse.”
This negative outlook couldn’t deter true followers’ excitement as they neared the man they have come to love since he was elected pope in March 2013. Many groups chanted “Jesus loves you, so do we” while passing by the protesters. “They’re practicing their freedom of speech,” Elia said, referring to the protesters.
As Pope Francis made his way through the large crowd in the Pope-mobile before the 4 p.m. Mass, worshipers gathered near the Jumbotrons preparing for the service.
Earlier in the day, people rejoiced in song and dance near the Jumbotron on Spring Garden Street and 19th. But as the service began, this atmosphere quickly turned to attentive silence.
Not everyone was feeling the brotherly love in the city of such, but all who attended this Mass left with a sense of broadened thinking.
“The day didn’t go as we had planned,” Megan Kenny, 19, of Rutgers said, “but I couldn’t have asked for a better time. The city of Philadelphia did a really good job preparing for the event, making sure everything ran smoothly. It was an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss.”
Additional reporting by Hayley Fahey