Finding God on Gannon’s campus: Nathan Demarest discusses Mass with Pope Francis

Gannon asked students about religous perspective and worldviews in a recent online survey.

Gannon asked students about religous perspective and worldviews in a recent online survey.

Whew, am I exhausted. But I’m also really happy and excited, because I got to see the pope – in real life. If you asked me what was going to happen to me during this year, as a junior at Gannon University, I would never have thought that I would get to have a personal glimpse of the Holy Father.

Nonetheless, this past weekend, I traveled with seven others to Philadelphia to attend the Festival of Families, which Pope Francis just happened to be at.

Our small band of eight arrived 10 miles outside of The City of Brotherly Love in a white Gannon van Friday evening. We got to spend Saturday and Sunday witnessing a few very big-scale events, which includes participating in the largest Mass that I have ever attended.

I will not likely experience a religious event with that magnitude of people ever again. To place a ballpark number of the people in attendance is nearly impossible for me, but it could have been close to 1 million. That staggers my imagination.

The crowd capacity may have been extremely large, but I was affected by the Mass in a very personal way. To backtrack, our group reached the site of the papal Mass around 7 a.m. Sunday and we positioned ourselves in a spot where we could get as close to the pope as possible.

We were situated in a small park where the only separation between us and the road was a fence and a sidewalk. We planned to sit there not only because we would be close to the pope as he rode down the street in his “Popemobile,” but because we had a narrow view of the pope’s chair and the altar where the consecration of the Eucharist would occur.

There were two black stands reserved for newscasters and other bigwigs, but we could just spy the pope through the opening between the stands. I think it was a really great spot, considering all the people who were present.

Anyway, to return to why I got so much out of this Mass was because there were so many people there who were gathered there for different reasons: they may have wanted to see the pope or they may have been there to catch a news story for a TV station or newspaper, but everyone was there at Mass together.

When we prayed, I could hear a resounding chorus of voices echoing the usual responses for Mass. It was unbelievable. I got to worship with other people from other walks of life and cultures and I even received Communion from a priest who spoke a different language.

To put this idea into other words: it was a multitude of uniqueness and difference – but Jesus was the same.

I was incredibly blessed to have this opportunity, and I have to thank Chris Beran for making the whole adventure possible. He worked tirelessly to make sure we had all of the necessary tickets and other items and he took very good care of all of us.

I realized that I may never see the pope again in my lifetime. That makes the trip even more memorable.


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