Fifty-one Mercyhurst students will travel by bus to Philadelphia on the evening of Sept. 26, to attend Pope Francis’ World Meeting of Families Papal Mass on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 4:00 p.m.
Registration for the trip, organized by Mercyhurst’s Campus Ministry and sponsored by Mercyhurst Student Government, opened in spring 2015, as soon as organizers received word that the mass would be in Philadelphia.
Campus Ministry also sent out an email invitation to the incoming freshman class of 2019. Spots filled up almost immediately, and there is an active waiting list.
Greg Baker, director of Campus Ministry and the main orchestrator of the trip, has remained engaged with the students as the event approaches, with daily email countdowns, quizzes and virtual tours of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the mass will take place, and inspirational messages. His goal is to make clear to the students that this trip will not be easy.
“We’re walking a total of about seven miles to get to and from this Mass, and I’m trying to get across the message that this is our own little pilgrimage, not just any ordinary road trip,” said Baker.
He also wants to convey to students that there may be some emotional trials on top of the trip’s physical strain.
“We’re also going to be immersed in this sea of humanity – people from all walks of life that will represent the very diverse church we have. I’m trying to get the students to consider that this experience might have some physical and emotional challenges to it,” said Baker.
Pope Francis has scheduled this visit to the East Coast around the triennial World Meeting of Families, an event that emphasizes the impact of families on society. He will also address Congress on Capitol Hill and the United Nations in New York City during his visit.
Baker is particularly looking forward to hearing the Pope’s perspective on various ongoing issues and seeing how his unique religious standpoint grabs people’s attention.
“I know he won’t shy away from his religious convictions in front of Congress. He has consistently drawn people’s attention to a number of political issues,” said Baker.
“He’s very cautious of capitalism and the exploitation of the poor, and his most recent encyclical was about climate change. He probably has a lot of messages that are important for people to hear.”
Tom Matheson, a junior Intelligence Studies major, shed light on why this excursion means more to him than just a road trip.
“I decided to sign up for this trip because it was a chance to witness history. Rarely do you get the chance to go to a Mass led by the figurehead of the Catholic Church with four million people,” said Matheson. “It will allow me to explore my own faith in the presence of Pope Francis, and engage in prayer with my peers and millions of others dedicated to the faith.”
Matheson is looking forward to one aspect of the mass in particular – the homily.
“I am excited to hear about Catholic principles and how they relate to the world today directly from the Pope himself,” Matheson said.
Students will board the bus after the Mass and drive through the night to return to Mercyhurst. After the trip, Baker has high hopes regarding what students take away from this experience.
“The Pope is from Argentina, so we’re not even sure that he’ll preach in English. This is a good moment for us, and the Church, to recognize that we’re not the center. We’re looking forward to being part of the minority,” Baker said.
After the trip, Baker hopes to organize a reunion to give the students a chance to reflect on their individual thoughts and discuss how they can share their collective experience with the rest of the school community.
“Everyone will leave with some kind of story, there’s not a doubt about that,” Baker said.