Students travel to Philadelphia, join papal audience


Members of the Erie Diocese, including seven students from Gannon University, were among those to attend a Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, hear Pope Francis speak at Independence Mall and attend the Festival of Families Saturday in Philadelphia.

Before his speech, people from all over the world clustered together to watch the pope’s procession through Independence Mall. Anna Swick, a sophomore social work major, said she was struck by the enormous amount of people gathered together for this purpose.

“Seeing all the people from different walks of life, different countries and ages all coming together under one faith and being able to communicate with people we wouldn’t connect with under any other circumstances was so cool,” Swick said.

Cody Feikles, a junior theology major, said he enjoyed meeting new people as well as getting to know the group of students better.

“They let me ask questions and they did their best to answer them; it was great,” Feikles said. “Seeing the pope was great, but it was nice to get to know the group.

“I see Christ in them.”

Pope Francis addressed millions of people in Spanish on the importance of remembering human dignity, especially in context with history and religious liberty.

Bethany Lewis, a senior English major, said the biggest highlight of the pope’s speech was being able to understand the speech in his native language.

“It was so affirming to be translating for people before the captions came on,” Lewis said.

The pope said Americans must remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, voting and labor rights and the effort to rid the nation of racism and prejudice, and that remembering the past benefits them all a great deal.

“When a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles based on human dignity, it has its history renewed,” Francis said. “Remembrance saves a peoples’ soul from whatever or whomever seeks to dominate its interests.”

Francis used the history of Philadelphia’s establishment by the Quakers who formed the colony based on the right to religious freedom, as an illustration of the importance of keeping religious freedom alive. Religious freedom gives us the grounds to hold interreligious dialogues without fighting our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own, he said.

The pope said that religious liberty transcends places of worship and that society’s religious dimension is not a subculture.

“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others,” Francis said.

Francis thanked those of all religions who sought to serve God by defending human dignity, especially for those who cannot defend it themselves.

“All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard,” Francis said. “In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails.”

He said we live in times where technology encourages a one-dimensional conformity that does not celebrate the individual, when it should be doing just that.

Francis closed his speech by tipping his hat to America’s Hispanic population. He said immigrants bring many gifts to the nation at such a huge cost and that they should never be ashamed of their traditions.

The pope said Americans should feel renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that they enjoy.

“And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself,” Francis said.

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