A Teaching Moment for the University
“We are two days away from the Pope’s visit. Who has a ticket?” asks Paul Brazinski, a First Year Experience teaching fellow and doctoral church history student, of the freshmen in his “Faith, Seeking, Understanding” course.
Many hands go up. “Nice!” says Brazinski. “No homework on Wednesday, other than to see the Pope.”
Brazinski is taking advantage of this class on the Monday morning before the papal visit to lecture on the Holy Father’s life and his teachings.
Outside his Caldwell Hall classroom is the Campus Ministry garden featuring a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Referring to that, Brazinski asks his students why Pope Francis took on the name of this saint when he began his papacy.
“St. Francis is the patron of animals and the environment and he dedicated himself to the poor,” says one student.
“Bingo!” responds Brazinski as he reminds students of the often-told story of the dramatic moment so many centuries ago when St. Francis renounced his inheritance and dedicated his life to the poor and the environment. “When Pope Francis chose his name that gave us the first idea that these would be the themes of his papacy,” he says.
Brazinski tells the students what it was like on campus on March 13, 2013, when it was announced that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected to be the 266th pope.
“Students chanted ‘Habemus Papam!’ and I can still remember the bells ringing across campus.”
The lecture focuses on Pope Francis’s early life as a boy, as a chemical technician (who also had a job as a nightclub bouncer), as a scholar, and as a young priest. Brazinski’s PowerPoint details important milestones in the Popes’s life. And the class ends with a lively discussion of Laudato Si’, the Pope’s encyclical on the environment. The students have read selected excerpts from the encyclical in which Pope Francis appeals to ‘‘every person living on this planet” to play a role in “caring for our common home.”
Pope Francis’s visit to Catholic University has provided a unique teaching moment for faculty and staff. In addition to the pope’s teachings being worked into curriculum in anticipation of the Holy Father’s visit, Catholic University’s Office of Campus Ministry initiated a series of events with the theme “Walking with Francis: Joy of the Gospel.”
CUA students, alumni, faculty, and staff have taken the pledge to walk in solidarity with the Holy Father through prayer, learning, and service. More than 500 members of the CUA community took part in the Serve with Francis Day on Sept. 13.There were special Masses in Spanish to help students learn the assembly responses for a Spanish Mass. Learning events included a screening of the Salt + Light documentary “The Francis Effect,” a pope trivia night, a panel discussion titled “Follow Francis’s Footsteps: The Pope’s Guide to Modern Life,” and a lecture on “Junipero Serra: An Apostle of California.
“I am so excited for the Mass. It will bring happiness to so many souls,” says Rory Martinez, a student in Brazinski’s course. “Spanish is my first language. My grandmother is from Mexico and she always told me about seeing Pope John Paul II. I got my faith from her. Celebrating the Mass in Spanish will feel like home. And after today’s class I will be going into the Mass with great knowledge,” says the theology major from New Mexico.
“Pope Francis’s visit to our campus provides a great opportunity for our students and community,” says Brazinski. “In the months leading to his adventus, he has inspired us to serve, pray, and learn. From our numerous service days to our Fitness for Francis at the Kane Fitness Center, CUA has been awaiting the Holy Father and has enhanced its programming to honor his mission. His visit has truly provided a unique and invigorating opportunity for our University.”
“The visit of Pope Francis will be one of the most memorable events in the lives of Catholic University students, who hopefully will remember not only the event, but also the Pope’s message: his invitation to ‘walk’ as a person of faith throughout the rest of their lives,” says Rev. John T. Ford, professor of theology and religious studies, who delivered the lecture on Blessed Junípero Serra. The soon-to-be saint will be canonized by Pope Francis during the papal Mass.