|Father Gervan Menezes, chaplain at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, is interviewed by Pedro Echevarria of C-SPAN on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Father Menezes’ group was among 87 students and chaperones to ride buses from Nashville, arriving just in time to enter the lawn to hear Pope Francis’ address to Congress on Sept. 24. After Pope Francis’ official address, he stepped onto the Speaker’s Balcony and offered a blessing to the crowd assembled on the lawn. Photo by Rick Musacchio
When Pope Francis became the first pope to ever address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24, dozens of high school students and educators from the Diocese of Nashville were on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol to witness the historic occasion.
Watching the address on jumbo screens, the crowd was able to clearly see and hear the pope’s message. “Everyone outside was clapping, some were crying. It was amazing,” said Father Gervan Menezes, chaplain and teacher at Father Ryan High School.
So much of what Pope Francis said resonated with him, Father Menezes said, but he was especially inspired by the four great Americans singled out by the pope – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton – and how they made a great impact.
“Common people can make a difference,” Father Menezes said. “It makes me think about how can I change my life and make a difference and be an example for other people.”
Father Menezes has been to several large papal gatherings over the years, and said it’s always a chance to draw closer to God. “We encounter Christ through the pope,” he said.
When Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony of the Capitol after his address to offer a blessing to the crowd, “it was an unreal feeling,” said Father Ryan High School senior Angelica Flores.
During his address, Pope Francis urged a response of “hope and healing, of peace and justice” to the many conflicts around the world today, which really spoke to Flores. “We’re not showing enough love,” she said.
Traveling back to Nashville after the quick trip to Washington, D.C., Flores said that witnessing the pope’s inspiring words and actions offer guidance of “showing compassion and being more empathetic” in everyday life.
In the crowd with Flores was Pope John Paul II High School junior Matthew Staley, who said that witnessing the papal address and receiving a blessing was “a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was the best thing to be there with so many teens from the diocese and the country.”
“What an unbelievable experience to be in the presence of such a holy man,” said Kathleen Leonard, a JPII parent who help chaperone the trip. “Pope Francis’ message reaches all people, all walks of life. Never have I felt the Catholic Church embracing humanity in all its entirety.”
Father Terry McGowan, chaplain and teacher at JPII, said that listening to Pope Francis, he was reminded that “the most powerful words that we can ever speak as ministers of Christ are not words of reproach or condemnation, but ones which touch the heart, heal the soul, and lift up the human spirit.”
“To witness live and hear his message that appeals and applies to everyone was a blessing itself,” said Brandon Quigley, assistant director of youth and young adult ministries for the Diocese of Nashville. “No other world leader on the planet could command the attention, reverence or awe of Pope Francis. He’s the largest and most recognized voice for all Christian believers … and he represents Christ’s message perfectly today.”