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Pope Francis: Making an Impact on our Campuses

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Mar. 26, 2013

On March 13, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina stepped out onto the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the newly elected Pope Francis I. In colleges and universities across the nation, he is generating unprecedented and diverse responses — all of them positive — filled with hope for the future of our faith.

A Native Son

Juan Dopico was born in Worcester, Mass. in 1990 — just six months after his parents arrived from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was the first grandchild which necessitated frequent return visits and with most of his relatives still in Argentina, Buenos Aires is very much a family home. The elevation of a native son to Pope Francis is personal to him.

“I was exhausted from studying and asleep when my Mom called me,” he said. “She was super-excited and calling everyone. My Dad had given up reading the news and the media for Lent. He reads everything and gets worked up. ‘I’m just going to open the news this one time,’ Dad said. All my uncles, relatives, friends in Argentina are on Facebook and all are super-excited. I told them, now you’ll have to be serious, go to church, now you’ll have to practice our faith. Buenos Aires is kind of like Europe — cultural Catholics rather than practicing ones.”

Currently a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Dopico graduated in 2012 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. with a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical studies. He credits being an altar server for three years as an undergraduate with the deepening of his faith.

“I find myself becoming more Catholic,” he explained. “I have so many hopes for Pope Francis. That he succeeds stemming secularization in Europe, the U. S. and Latin America; that he brings people back to the Church. If the Vatican bureaucracy is as bad as they say, that he gets it under control and gets us beyond the priest scandal. That he really demonstrates the love of Christ to the world. How else would you accomplish all that I’ve said? That would be the greatest help.”

There was clearly another question to ask Dopico.

“I’m always leaving the priesthood open,” he replied. “I find myself thinking of that more often. If I’m going to be a priest, I want to do it for the right reasons. I’m still debating; I go to sleep thinking about it.”

A Papa to Look Up To

Brogan Drumm is a 20 year old sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. She lives on the third floor of the Newman Center with three other co-eds, but will be a resident assistant in a dormitory next year.

“I was so incredibly amazed that Pope Benedict XVI took the initiative to say he wasn’t well and couldn’t lead the Church and I was excited to see who Christ had in mind for the next pope,” Drumm shared. “My friends expressed a lot more sadness and shock and confusion. I didn’t see it as that and I felt Christ had something great planned and it was good for other faiths to see we are rooted in Christ and not the pope and we would and could continue even though Pope Benedict resigned.”

Drumm responded immediately to Pope Francis’ humility. “He’s a people person and so ready to serve Christ – his Church and I’m anxious to see what he has planned for the future. I’m all excited about his going to the people. I hope to see the Catholic Church band together and just go out to the people and bring Christ to the people and to live out the true Catholic faith. It’s so awesome to have a Papa to look up to and model evangelizing skills. It’s what I hope to be doing next year in the dorm – going out to the people.”

Her evangelizing dreams only begin with the students on campus. Drumm is looking forward to a career of it. “The media is sending the wrong message to the younger generation. I have two younger sisters and I see how the media is influencing them wrongly. I hope to change that — not just for my sisters, but for generations to come.”

An Advocate for the Poor

Josh Altares is a senior at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas majoring in finance. He hopes to work in the banking industry following graduation and is most impressed with Pope Francis’ love for the poor.

“When they picked Francis, they started talking about him as humble, an advocate for the poor, how he sacrificed a lot of luxuries being cardinal and I found it refreshing that he advocates for the poor,” Altares said. “Our parish is charitable to the poor, but we have lots of wealthy people. It’s pretty awesome that on Holy Thursday he’s going to wash the feet of prison inmates. It shows what kind of man he is.”

Altares sees not a conflict with his chosen occupation, but the opportunity to make a difference.

“The world of finance gets a bad rap – back to 2008 when everything collapsed,” he said. “I don’t want to be obnoxious with my faith. I just want to try to live a life of integrity and follow the new pope’s example within the community serving others. I want to spread the faith through example and if I find myself in a situation to evangelize – I’m always willing to sit down and talk to people.”

The Apps Have It

Kieu Tran is 23, a 2012 graduate from the University of California at San Diego and is Outreach and Communications Coordinator for the Newman Center. She has had the opportunity to witness campus reactions.

“A lot of students began embracing how the Church functions,” Tran said. “‘Conclave’ was a new word. Students were getting involved. There was an “adopt a cardinal” app. Students were praying – even non-Catholics and seeing them involved and of an age to get involved was very powerful. I didn’t think they’d elect so quickly. But I had another app – “Pope Alarm” and that’s how I knew. It was posted on Facebook and a lot of non-Catholics posted interesting facts and their excitement.”

Catholic response was classic collegiate on the night of the Pope’s election.

“We have a candlelight Mass on campus on Wednesdays,” Tran shared. “It was so good to go to Mass and be able to pray for the pope again in the Eucharistic prayer. We had a Pope Party after Mass with Argentinean beer. Everyone was of drinking age,” she was quick to reassure.

The Holy Spirit Embodied in Living Flesh

Father John Sims Baker is the Chaplain of University Catholic at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“The response of students is similar across the board — they’re very enthusiastic and inspired,” Father Baker said. “People are thinking of specific things in their lives they want to change — greater simplicity and considering the needs of the poor.

I think Pope Francis is going to be very practical in how he’s leading us; calling us to put our faith into practice and really live it. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI gave us the resources to know our faith and to love it and Pope Francis is going to challenge us to do it.

It’s amazing. It makes you excited to be a Catholic, to have the leadership of the Holy Spirit embodied in living flesh. We can hear him, see him. It gives great confidence and courage.”

About the Author

Laura Dodson is a freelance correspondant for the Newman Connection based in Melbourne, FL.