Up Front and Personal

I Can’t Believe the Pope Was on Campus

By Karen Funaro

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to St. Joseph’s College campus in Philadelphia. He arrived in his trademark simple car, a Fiat.
Pope Francis made a surprise visit to St. Joseph’s University campus in Philadelphia. He arrived in his trademark simple car, a Fiat. (Photo by Richard Gallo)

Reflecting on my time as an undergraduate at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit school in Philadelphia, Pa., there have been many absolutely unforgettable moments. After every single milestone in my college career I have thought to myself, “nothing can top this, it can’t get any better than this.”

I had this same thought last Saturday as I ran down the stairs of my apartment with my friends to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he drove down City Ave. during his historic visit to Philadelphia. We spoke with the people in the crowd about how incredible it was that Pope Francis, a Jesuit, was staying across the street from us at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and how fortunate our school was to have him drive by.

The pope’s Fiat came down the street and I thought for sure that it was the best 10 seconds of my entire life – “nothing can top this.” We “pope-chased,” as we called it, all that day in various locations on City Ave. to take pictures as his holiness came and went from the seminary.

The next morning, my roommates and I watched Pope Francis address the bishops at the seminary on television and then stood out on our fire escape, where we saw his helicopter fly over our building.

We thought for sure the “Pope-Chasing” was over and perhaps if we were lucky, we might catch one final glimpse of him driving by on his way to the Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway later that day.

While sitting in the school’s cafeteria, I heard a rumor that Pope Francis was going to make a surprise stop on campus to bless the new statue that honors Nostra Aetate. We all immediately stopped eating and headed toward that location at the front of our school’s chapel and waited with high hopes that the rumor was true.

After one hour of waiting and wondering, one of the students in the crowd stated that the local news stations had confirmed that Pope Francis was going to be stopping on campus. It was completely unplanned. In just minutes, what seemed like hundreds of students began to flood the area. Campus officials arrived, along with the Secret Service. They began to put out metal barricades and organize the crowd into specific locations. I couldn’t believe it was really happening – Pope Francis was going to be walking up the same path that I have been walking up every single day for the past three years. Beaming with excitement, I positioned myself accordingly so that I could get the best view possible of the pontiff.

We were stuck in a pit of people for hours, undergoing security measures and anxiously awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival. With every police officer, Army officer and security guard that took position, the more I felt the enormity of what I was about to be a part of.

Finally, we heard the sounds of his motorcade and the crowd erupted into a huge roar. He had arrived and was pulling into our parking lot. In just moments, I was going to be just a few feet away from the Pope.

Pope Francis walked up the pathway near the Campion Student Center, toward the statue, where he was greeted by our school president Dr. Mark C. Reed; student body president, Nicholas Chingas ’16, and the student body vice president. He shook hands with them and Chingas presented him with a St. Joe’s soccer jersey adorned with the number 36, for the year that he was born. The crowd erupted in loud cheers as Chingas held the Jersey up high and gave it to him.

Pope Francis then walked toward the statue and the crowd quickly hushed. He began to pray and then proceeded to bless the statue with holy water. Everyone cheered.

He waved to the students and people in the crowd as he turned to leave. The crowd chanted, “Let’s go St. Joe’s” loud and proud following his exit. Security then moved the barricades and everyone began to hug each other and storm toward the statue that Pope Francis just blessed.

We all were witnesses to a major part of St. Joseph’s University’s history, and we were so fortunate to have been a part of it. Nor could any of us believe it.

I still can’t stop smiling. I’ve never been prouder to be Jesuit educated and to be a part of the St. Joseph’s University community. Although I have said it before, I’m pretty sure anything that happens from this point on in college can’t be as amazing as having the pope visit your campus. Nothing can top this.

Karen Funaro is a member of St. Ephrem’s parish, Dyker Heights, and a graduate of Bishop Kearney H.S., Bensonhurst.