Papal Visit Proves to be Emotional, Moving for All

Anna Maria College students had the momentous opportunity to come close to Pope Francis and be part of the final leg of his historic visit to the United States in September.

A small group of students were able to make the trip to Philadelphia as part of a larger effort coordinated through the Worcester Diocese. Those students’ gratitude was unmistakable as was their excitement leading up to and throughout this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I cannot wait. I have been waiting for a long time for this,” Junior John Plewa shared with a WBZ-TV reporter during the week leading up to the trip. Pointing out what makes this Pope so special, Plewa said, “he’s reinvigorated my faith…he’s taking it from paper to living it out.”

“I need to see him again,” said senior Elizabeth Haggerty, who was able to see Pope Francis once before during her study abroad experience in Rome. “To me, he is a role model.”

Plewa, Haggerty, nine other students and three staff members made the three-day voyage. Students embarked via bus on Friday and spent two nights at a camp in New Jersey in between their daily trips into Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27.

Anna Maria students were particularly lucky as they received VIP tickets to one of the Pope’s more intimate speaking engagements in Philadelphia’s famous Independence Hall. As a result, they got within feet of His Holiness.

“We were a little over 10 feet away,” said sophomore Elizabeth Casella. “I was speechless.”

Like Casella’s, sentiments of the students throughout this meaningful experience were well documented on social media and picked up by many of the Worcester’s and Boston’s media outlets and news sites.

Senior Teresa Ryan of Shrewsbury tweeted, “less than 15 feet from the Pope today and it was amazing. Here’s a man that’s bringing Catholicism back to its root.”

In addition to the close encounter with Pope Francis on Saturday, the Anna Maria group was able to receive the Eucharist during Pope Francis’ final Mass on Sunday.

Fr. Manuel Clavijo, director of Campus Ministry, commented on the sense of shared purpose that day. “It was a beautiful testimony to the power of prayer,” he said.

Campus Ministry and Community Service Coordinator Emma Gallagher found Sunday’s Mass to be the most emotional part of the trip.

“As we approached the gate to receive the Eucharist from one of the deacons, it was such an overwhelming feeling. We needed it. To be a part of the Mass and experience the Eucharist that had been blessed by the Pope was a true blessing,” said Gallagher.

She also remarked that everyone that the Anna Maria group encountered, whether it be police officers, store clerks or others, was happy and in a good mood, even as the groups were trying to depart the city in an extremely crowded train station.

“Instead of getting upset about the long waits, everyone was singing!” she said.

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