By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Several hundred grey-uniformed high school students gathered in the gymnasium at Notre Dame de Sion High School to watch live coverage of Pope Francis’ address to a joint session of the United States Congress Sept. 24. Covered by EWTN, the Catholic broadcasting network, and seen on a large screen, the students were able to hear and see the pope speaking and lawmakers applauding.
It was one of about 325 Pope Watch parties in 34 states in the U.S. and in Rome. It was estimated by the Ignatian Solidarity Network that more than 32,000 people were expected to attend the parties.
Eight Sion students were registered with the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Pope2Congress campaign to participate by using their Twitter accounts. Using the Seven Tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, the students tweeted live when they heard a connection in the Pope’s address to the school’s mission: inviting students to encounter God in a Catholic atmosphere that respects all faith traditions, and partnering with families and the community to prepare students for socially responsible, values based leadership in a culturally and religiously diverse world.
Any student who wished to was able to tweet in-house her reflections and ideas during the address. All the tweets were displayed on a screen positioned to one side of the gym where the students could see them.
A group of students listened for “Pope Francis-isms,” well-known sayings of his. Each student held a BINGO card, with sayings of the Pope printed in the squares. Each time one of the phrases was heard, the students placed a marker on the card. There was a prize in the offing for the winner and her class.
Sion senior Elizabeth Arroyo said she had loved Pope Francis from the start.” He is an inspiration not for just Catholics, but for all faiths.”
Sophomore Tierney Manning said, “I knew he has was a humble man; he challenges us to live simply, work hard and do our best, and always remember God.”
The girls listened intently as the Pope talked about four Americans who helped “build a better future” for their country. He spoke of Abraham Lincoln, who labored tirelessly “that ‘this nation under God might have a new birth of freedom’ (The Gettysburg Address, 1863).” Pope Francis said, “Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
He spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leading the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., 50 years ago, as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African-Americans. The pope said, “That dream continues to inspire us all.”
In his discussion of the challenges and hard decisions facing today’s world, which is in the throes of a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II, Pope Francis said, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Matthew 7:12), which led to his encouraging a global abolition of the death penalty, which led to an ovation in Congress and in the gym at Sion High School.
He then spoke of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose “social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith and the example of the saints.” He remarked that much has been done in the first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty, but there is much more still to be done.
People trapped in a cycle of poverty need to be given hope, he said. “The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”
His fourth “notable American” was Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton. “He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people,” Pope Francis said. “Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
The pope describes them as, “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams,” Lincoln – liberty; King – liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Day – social justice and the rights of the person; and Merton – capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
In closing, he spoke of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He planned to attend the Festival of Families in that city Sept. 26 and celebrate Mass Sept. 27. “How essential the family has been to the building of this country!”
He said he sought to present some of the richness of America’s cultural heritage and the spirit of the American people in his address. Pope Francis concluded: “It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”
There was a standing ovation in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and a standing ovation in the gym at Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City , Mo.
Following the address, Tierney said, I would tell my grandchildren that I watched on television the first time a pope had ever addressed Congress. He challenged them (members of the House of Representatives and Senate) to change the way they view all people, old, young, and immigrant. He views us with love. Love is unique to Pope Francis; he is one of the most loving popes ever.”
Elizabeth said, “Pope Francis is the entity and the voice for people — babies in-utero, young people, vulnerables, all people all over the world. He loves us all. It’s hard to see why anyone would not agree with what he says. He’s talking about our faith, things Christ asks us to do.”
Tierney added, “As a member of a big family, I’m going to try to stay humble and try harder to forget earthly possessions. Above all, I’m going to try harder to remember the most important thing in my life, God.”
Elizabeth said, “The most important thing we can do now is love; emulate the love our pope has shown all of us. He is very pro-life. Every person is a child of God.”
Tierney summed it up, “Pope Francis is doing it, not just talking it. Actions speak louder than words. Everybody should be imitating him!”
For more information on Notre Dame de Sion, visit ndsion.edu.
The Ignatian Solidarity Network was founded in 2004 as a national social justice network inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. ISN is a lay-led organization partnering with Jesuit schools and parishes as well as many other Catholic institutions and social justice partners.
For more information see www.ignatiansolidarity.net.