Last week, Pope Francis made his first visit to the U.S., stopping in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City.
This visit left an impact on the U.S. Catholic population and others, including many at the Texas Tech Catholic Student Center.
Father Francis Orozco, chaplain and parochial vicar for St. Elizabeth University Parish, said the pope’s visit was significant because there is such a large Catholic population in the U.S.
Even though he was nowhere near Lubbock, the pope’s visit impacts students at Tech, Greg Ramzinski, director of Campus Ministry for Catholic Student Ministry, said. Watching the pope’s message still relates to students.
“It’s also significant because this pope is the first pope from the Americas, so to have a pope from our hemisphere is extremely important,” Orozco said. “Another reason too is when we see news of the pope, it’s often phrased in political terms. The pope is not a politician — he’s a religious leader.”
The Catholic Church is worldwide, he said, so the pope’s visit was rare.
“That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church, because it’s worldwide it encompasses many cultures,” Orozco said. “It unites American Catholics with one cause.”
The pope speaks on a variety of topics with authority, he said. In the U.S., the two-party system causes people to think in terms of liberal vs. conservative or Republican vs. Democrat.
The pope is Catholic so he speaks on issues such as the death penalty and economic justice, Orozco said, while also speaking on abortion and homelessness.
“In the U.S. we see, ‘if you believe this then you’re a Republican or you’re a Democrat,’” Orozco said, “but as a Catholic the pope can talk about these things that might be politically divisive in our eyes but in his eyes this is just how to be a good Christian.”
People seeing and hearing the pope directly is important, he said. Much of what people have heard is sound bites from the news, so people could hear him unedited.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church being in America is important to Catholics, Orozco said. People can see how personable the pope is, especially when he visited prisons and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
“He spoke with the people directly, not just politicians and the religious leaders,” he said.
Catholics believe the pope, and all popes, are the successors of Saint Peter, Orozco said. Saint Peter was appointed by Christ to lead his church on Earth, which is the Roman Catholic Church. Since Saint Peter, there is an unbroken line of succession, tracing back to Jesus, he said.
Another reason Orozco said the pope’s visit is important is because he serves as a role model to Catholics. Instead of fitting into a box of Liberal or Conservative, people can just be Christians.
The Catholic Student Center uses the pope’s message of service by making care packages for the homeless and other community service events, he said.
Ramzinski said one of the pope’s overarching messages is service to the poor. The Catholic Student Ministry lives out that message through community service.
“It’s not just a mission trip once a year,” he said, “it’s a weekly thing that they do to live out that message of service to the poor.”
While the pope was in America, the Catholic Student Center hosted watch parties so the students could watch and discuss the pope’s events, Ramzinski said.
One of the key messages the pope had that applied to students during the watch parties was service, he said. Students should be focused on academics, but also on giving themselves to others.
Brent Forsythe, Campus Ministry intern and a senior business management major from Port Neches, said he followed the visit constantly.
“He’s the one we look up to, he’s the one that spreads the good news, so it’s a really big deal to us,” he said.
Pope Francis is like a breath of fresh air because of his ability to relate to young people, Forsythe said. The pope is relatable because he is welcoming.
The pope is changing the way young people view the Catholic Church, he said.
“I think the pope did a lot of bold things on this trip,” Forsythe said. “The pope made a lot of bold moves and that just goes to show it’s not necessarily political, he’s just trying to spread God’s love to everyone and I think he did that in a very bold way and a lot of people appreciated him for doing that, too.”