Seeing Pope Francis: Papal pilgrimage proves to be a successful trip


Meghan Maker

Many Mercyhurst students were able to get close enough to Pope Francis to snap a few pictures as he drove by in his popemobile in the streets of Philadelphia.

Erin McGarrity, Staff writer

Last weekend, a group of 51 Mercyhurst students, along with five adult members of the Mercyhurst community, returned from Pope Francis’ World Meeting of Families Papal Mass in Philadelphia with a variety of memorable experiences and reflections to share.
The students arrived in Philadelphia early on the morning of Sept. 27, and they were one of the first groups to make it past the security check points. Greg Baker, director of Campus Ministry and the main coordinator of the trip, said he is grateful that the group got in at all.
“We were in conversation with another Mercy college, and their students didn’t even get in. The waits at the security checkpoints were so long, that some people were just turned away completely,” Baker said.
Baker stated that, overall, the trip far exceeded his expectations. He was particularly in awe of the respectful atmosphere, despite the event’s intense security and the multicultural representation.
“I’ve never seen such a high-security event,” said Baker. “But people were singing, praying, even dancing in the streets. The atmosphere was very respectful, but still electric. Everyone was waving flags of all of their native countries – it was really cool to see that multicultural flavor.”

Pope Francis preached in his native language, Spanish. Baker cited this as a great learning opportunity for both Mercyhurst students and the Church as a whole.
“I was hoping he would preach in Spanish, personally,” said Baker. “You know, English is not the official language of the Church. There are so many Spanish-speakers in our Church, and I think it’s important for people to realize that we’re not the center.”
Baker, as well as a few students, weighed in on their favorite parts of the experience.
“I really enjoyed his homily,” said Baker.  “He spoke about families, and he gave specific points for parents to consider when raising their kids. As a father, I thought, ‘Here’s the Pope giving me parenting advice, this is really cool.’”
Sergio Cortes, a sophomore Political Science and Economics major, said that although students were not close enough to physically see the Mass, the gathering was still the highlight of the weekend.
“There were big screens showing the mass live. It was beautiful,” said Cortes.  “So many people together in one place to worship God, and the mass was so well-prepared, with a wonderful chorus and so much detail on everything. Even though the trip was tiresome and exhausting, it was definitely worth it.”
Erin Herschelman, a junior Accounting major, found her most memorable experience to be receiving communion at Mass. Although Mercyhurst students were not in the prime ticketed section, they were still able to participate in that aspect of the Mass.
“There were hundreds of priests making their way up the street so that all people could receive. It was so incredible to know that there were a million people from all over the country, even the world, who came to Ben Franklin Parkway through the importance of the Catholic faith,” Herschelman said.
After the Mass, students were physically and emotionally spent. Although there was not much time for post-Mass reflection, Baker plans to organize some kind of forum for students to share their thoughts and feelings.
“I know it took me several days of physical aches and pains to kind of unpack what the whole experience meant to me, so I want to give students that same opportunity to digest,” said Baker. “Whether it’s on social media or in person, I do want to give them a chance to reflect.”
At the end of the Mass, officials announced that its next congregation will take place in Dublin in three years, and Baker hinted at the possibility of another organized trip for Campus Ministry.
“There is definite potential for Mercyhurst to have some kind of connection to the World Meeting of Families again in three years,” said Baker. “We would love to make that happen.”