By William T. Clew and Tanya Connor
Students, faculty, administrators and staff at the College of the Holy Cross began to file into the Rehm Library when the doors opened at 8:30 a.m. A large television screen hung at one end of the room. It was tuned to EWTN, which carried the pope’s address with captions.
By 9 a.m. most of the chairs were full, except for the first two rows, drawing the comment “just like church” from one observer.
Marybeth K Barrett, director of the chaplain’s office at Holy Cross, made opening remarks as people continued to enter the compact area. By the time the pope began to speak all the seats, even in the front rows, were full and there were standees along the back wall and several people, most of them students, seated in the middle aisle.
Just before the pope entered the House chambers, Father John Savard, rector of the Jesuit community at Holy Cross, got a laugh when he picked up a full-sized cardboard cutout of the pope, held t in front of his face and shoulders and began waving to the audience.
During the pope’s address the Rehm Library was silent. Near the end of his talk several students left to attend an 11 a.m. class, but most stayed until the end and applauded when the pope ended his talk
Brooke Tranten, a junior from Brunswick, Maine, who was not able to hear all of the pope’s address to Congress because she was in class for part of it, said that what struck her was his defense of the family.
“Francis wasn’t interested in making a political statement,” she said.
He talked about the natural family family, mother, father and children, and how the family is under attack by western culture, she said.
“It’s a proud day to be a student at a Jesuit institution,” said Brian Senier of Melrose. Pope Francis is a Jesuit and Holy Cross is a Jesuit institution.
“Beyond that, as someone who is politically inclined, it was nice to see a sense of unity that often eludes American politics,” he said.
Kate Spitler, a sophomore from Marshfield, said she felt the pope “really connected with people of faith.”
After watching Pope Francis’ address to Congress in the Chancery Library Thursday, a couple Worcester Diocesan employees shared impressions from his visit.
“I loved his phrase, ‘implementing a culture of care, restoring dignity to human beings and protecting nature,’” said Eileen Charbonneau, administrative assistant and ecclesiastical notary in the Judicial Vicar’s Office. She said she thinks those are linked, and got the impression the pope does too.
“This is the first time I heard him speak, except in sound bites,” she said. “He’s soft-spoken, gentle, but he makes his point.” It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m not yelling at you. I care about you. So I want to share with you what I think will help you, in a way that respects you even if I don’t agree with you.”
“I think that’s why he’s so effective,” she said. “Maybe the people who don’t like him have only heard sound bites, but haven’t really heard him.”
“A lot of times … Catholics are looked down on,” said Julie Schroeder, administrative assistant in the Office of the Vicar General for the Diocese of Worcester. But the papal visit “makes you really proud to be Catholic,” she said.
“The president’s speech, it was really incredible,” she said of President Barack Obama’s welcome to Pope Francis, “He said a lot of beautiful things about the Catholic Church. If he really lived and believed the things that he said … he would lead this country into a better place, a more hopeful place.
“And the same with Congress. The reactions they had to the things the pope said, regarding the family especially, and the dignity of life. and seeing the faces of people, not just numbers. If they lived and they voted as they represented themselves, our country would be … headed in the right direction.” This would give citizens confidence and hope that their country was being led well, she said.
“These are my thoughts,” she concluded. “I’m Catholic! This is awesome!”
“I’m still trying to process everything,” Patrick Seed, of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury, said Thursday. A 2015 graduate of The Catholic University of America, he attended Pope Francis’ Mass at his alma mater Wednesday.
“It was an incredible experience,” he told The Catholic Free Press in a telephone interview after returning home. “It was very powerful, especially during the Mass, with all these different languages being incorporated. … It kind of spoke to how being a Catholic is such a universal experience. It doesn’t belong to just one group of people.
“It was incredible – all those people there being able to join the pope and share their faith with him. … I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Mass,” surrounded by people who had the same gratitude and joy.
He said he brings back with him the pope’s “general message of compassion and love and being inclusive” and plans to continue to try to incorporate that into his life.
He rejoiced that he got to see the Holy Father, even though he didn’t get too close to him. His mother, to whom he could not give his non-transferable ticket, got much closer.
“I stood outside waiting for him,” Sheila Seed said of being on the pope’s route. “It was very exciting because I wasn’t expecting him to be that close. I thought he’d be in the middle of the road, but he was closer to the sidewalk.”
In that spot people could line up only on one side of the street because of construction, she said.
She said she watched the Mass on jumbotrons, and some of the gathering at St. Matthew’s.
“Everybody was just so excited to be there, excited that he was there,” she said.
What did she bring back from the pope’s messages?
“Just be kind to each other.”