As the Pope concludes his historic trip to the United States, dozens of Rhode Island students plan to attend his outdoor mass in Philadelphia.
Rhode Island is one of the most Catholic states in the country. Rhode Island Public Radio’s John Bender took a trip to Salve Regina University to find out how the students and faculty feel about Pope Francis.
On the day of the Pope’s address to Congress, dozens of students cram into a lecture hall on Salve Regina University’s picturesque campus, perched on the cliffs of Newport, Rhode Island. They’re gathered to watch the address live-streamed on a jumbo-tron at the front of the room.
Sophomore English and Political Science major David Fairchild attended despite no real religious affiliation. He calls himself an agnostic with an open mind.
“I wanted to see what he was saying because of how specific and influential he is,” said Fairchild.” How people interpret it and how it changes their mindset. He has the power, in that one speech to mobilize a generation, or start political strife for the next year.”
Fairchild said he’s happy the Pope weighed in on current events like the thousands of migrants fleeing the Middle East.
“I think the refugee crisis is one of the pressing issues of globalization,” said Fairchild. “And I think he was very clear on his stance. He said we have to do what we can.”
The Pope has also called for action to stop global climate change. That’s resonated with senior environmental major Kristin McDermott.
“He’s calling for moral change for the environment, not just a technological change,” said McDermott. “He doesn’t think that just technological change will solve something, but it’s a change in the heart of everyone, that we should respect our environment.”
McDermott, a practicing Roman Catholic, likes this Pope so much she plans to be in Philadelphia to see him in person. Some 50 students from Salve are expected to attend, along with a busload of students from Providence College.
Salve junior Gina Tanini sat in the student union reminding people to vote in the upcoming student government elections.
“I’d rather have someone who’s at least trying to make an impact, and trying to make a difference,” said Tanini of the Pontiff. “Rather than someone who’s just sitting around not starting the conversation at least.”
The Catholic psychology major said she thinks the Pope is making an honest effort to connect.
“It’s about being connected with people,” said Tanini. “So getting a connection with people. Getting people who can actually connect with people, is what’s going to bring the church back in my eyes. My church back home is not doing well because our pastor and our priests are losing the connection.”
Her friend sitting next to her, sophomore Alyssa Lyons, was raised Baptist. She said many students don’t identify as Catholic at Salve, but there’s been a lot of talk about the Pope on Campus.
“And to add to that, if you’re taking a religion class currently, most of the religion professors are discussing it in some way shape or form,” said Lyons.
Anna Mae Mayer is the director of Salve’s interfaith center, and is leading the student trip to Philadelphia.
“I think he seems a lot more in touch with the real world in which we live,” said Mayer.
She credits Pope Francis’ gentle approach to social issues for his widespread appeal.
“I think it shows very much that he has been active in the church with the people. He’s not a lifelong bureaucrat in the Vatican, and I think this has made a huge perspective on how we are to deal with life in the modern world.”
Mae like most others at Salve is a fan. And you’d be hard-pressed to find many critical of the Pope on this campus. But the Pope has challenged many in the church with his frank and seemingly open tone.
Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic leader, Bishop Thomas Tobin has struck a more conservative note on issues like homosexuality and birth control. But he attended the gathering of American bishops to greet the Pope in Washington D.C. He’s said he welcomes the Popes opening up of dialogue, even if there may be disagreement, if it will reinvigorate the Church.
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