Students discuss Pope in America

October 21, 2015 by Matt Brabeck, Contributing Writer

On Oct. 8, Williams Catholic held an open discussion on Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States.

Rather than give a lecture-style presentation, Williams Catholic Co-Presidents Diana Sanchez ’17 and David Váscones ’18 asked attendees to share their own voices and perspectives.

The majority of attendees were not Catholic themselves, but came with the desire to engage with and listen to their fellow students’ thoughts, religious or not. In addition to the students present, Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding and Catholic Chaplain Gary C. Caster also participated throughout the course of the hour’s discussion.

The group discussed Pope Francis’s South American background as an Argentine (which makes him the first Pope from either the Americas or the Southern Hemisphere), his uniquely nonpartisan political views (expressed in his address to the joint session of Congress) and the humanity and warmth he has brought to the papacy, among other topics.

Sanchez thought that one of the most powerful parts of the Pope’s visit to the United States was the way in which he called on everyone to exercise compassion and humility, specifically with his message of “just treating each other better – I think that’s definitely one of the core principles of Pope Francis’s message, and that’s something that we can definitely apply to our own lives here, in dealing with classmates, with friends, faculty, staff, students – everybody.”

“One of the big things that Pope Francis pushes for is humility, and I think that’s something that sometimes we need to focus on as Williams students; we’re here at this very prestigious college and, you know, sometimes we forget that we’re all human and that we’re called to help and serve others, not just ourselves,” Sanchez continued.

Sanchez was glad that the Pope’s visit, given its extensive media coverage, brought Francis’s message to the forefront of the U.S. consciousness, providing an occasion for public dialogue at the College and across the country.

“I was glad Williams Catholic was able to host the event and that Williams gives us the opportunity to hold discussions – it’s really important for people to be able to say what they think, give their opinions and their perspectives, even if they’re differing – everybody deserves to be heard,” she said.

Váscones likewise thinks that Pope Francis is valuable because he is able to spark conversation and discussion.

“He’s a unique figure in the world in that he’s able to unite pretty much everyone,” Váscones said. “The message of unity really is one which is central, I think, to understanding the Pope’s visit.”

Váscones believes that the Pope’s visit was intended to start these conversations. “A point which I thought was so interesting in his speech to the Congress was talking about calling Americans to dialogue … calling people to encounter – that’s a thing he talks about a lot,” Váscones  said. “And in thinking about how we wanted to respond to the visit here on campus, Williams Catholic decided to have an event to have that kind of dialogue.”

Váscones expressed how pleased Williams Catholic was at the diversity of backgrounds represented at the event. “It was very much in the spirit of dialogue that we wanted to have this event – people of different faiths, students of different years and two of the Chaplains were there – it was an opportunity for all of us to talk to each other in an informal way,” Váscones said. He saw the discussion as “the first of what I hope will be many efforts [of Williams Catholic] to follow Francis’s call to reach out to the whole society, to the whole world.”

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