Catholic groups on campus and throughout the District are preparing to celebrate this week’s arrival of their revered religious leader, the pope.
Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the nation’s capitol to be greeted by President George W. Bush on Tuesday, April 15 and will remain in Washington until the April 17. Benedict will fly to New York City on the morning of April 18 to address the United Nations.
“Having him come and be present in the local presence really allows you the experience of being part of that larger church that extends through space and time,” said the Rev. Peter Giovanoni, the chaplain at the Newman Catholic Student Center. “That’s something I’m always conscious of.”
Benedict will offer Mass at the new Nationals Stadium to 45,000 Catholics from around the country April 17. Tickets were distributed to ministries across the United States and Giovanoni said the Newman Center received a generous amount, but not enough to allow every student involved with the Newman Center and related GW Catholic groups to attend the Mass. Giovanoni said he used a lottery system to distribute the tickets fairly.
“I used a random number generator,” Giovanoni said. “I’m an astrophysicist. Staff and leaders (at Newman Center) automatically got tickets.”
GW senior Megan Lehnerd received a ticket to attend the Mass, but said she will have the opportunity to get much closer to the pope than her peers. The Diocese of Washington selected Lehnerd as one of the mass’ four young adult gift bearers.
“I’m obviously very excited and overwhelmed, and I’m not sure how I will react to the situation, being in such close presence with someone we believe to be so holy and such an important leader in the Church,” Lehnerd said. “I almost see it as a reward for all the work I’ve done being involved with Newman Center for the past four years. I could not even imagine having such a great reward to graduate with. It’s such an honor to participate in this Mass.”
The Newman Center shared its tickets with two other Catholic groups on campus, The Catholic Daughters of the Americas and the Knights of Columbus. Junior Conrad Murphy, the grand knight of GW’s Knights of Columbus chapter, said his group gives a large sum of the money to the pope annually.
“One thing the Knights of Columbus on a national level does is the Supreme Knight writes a check for a million dollars to the pope, and then the pope uses that to give to charities,” Murphy said.
Catholic University also distributed tickets to a lawn event in which students will watch and wave at Benedict in the Popemobile while it is en route to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception April 16. The next day, Benedict will meet more than 200 Catholic college and university officials to discuss Catholic education at Catholic University.
Michelle Huntley, a GW senior and a regent in GW’s Catholic Daughters of the Americas chapter, said Catholic teachings can help foster strong academics at Catholic universities.
“As a Catholic organization, it is important to follow the teachings of the Church in their entirety,” Huntley said in an e-mail. “Adhering to the teachings and principles of the Church is not a threat to academic freedom or intellectual pursuits. Rather, the teachings of the Church are meant to compliment and enhance academia.”
Huntley wrote that even as a secular university, Catholic students make an effort to uphold these teachings at GW.
“Because we are at a secular university, we encourage daughters to help each other stay active in their faith, even if others around them do not,” Huntley wrote. “College can be an easy time to fall away from the faith and as Catholics at GW, we try to encourage people to stay committed to the teachings and beliefs of the Church.”
This article has been changed to reflect the following correction (April 14, 2008):
The Hatchet misidentified Conrad Murphy as a senior. He is a junior.