WASHINGTON – On the Catholic University of America’s campus, metal barricades and scaffolding clash with the gothic-style buildings and students studying on the lawn, enjoying a hot September day.
Yet, students are buzzing with excitement about Pope Francis’ visit to campus Wednesday.
“The general feeling is excitement. So yeah, there are fences everywhere, and it kind of takes more time to get to class, but that doesn’t take away from what is happening Wednesday,” Maddie Buday, 21, of Kalamazoo, Mich., a nursing student and volunteer for the event, said.
Pope Francis will canonize Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary who started several missions in California. He will also celebrate Mass for more than 25,000 on the Catholic campus in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Students from all religious backgrounds share the city’s excitement about seeing the Catholic Church’s leader.
The church has struggled in recent years with issues such as the sexual abuse scandals that plagued some leaders. Pope Francis is seen as the leader for change within the institution by students.
“As the head of the Catholic religion, he’s trying to make the church do somewhat of a 180 in the way they view things,” said Danny Graff, 21, a regional comparative studies major from Los Angeles, and a student across town at Georgetown University. “And in some ways, he’s just strengthening what they have already done for thousands of years.”
While it is a religious event, students say they recognize how the pope has brought a diversity of people together.
“I’m a Muslim, and I’m imam. Even from a perspective of not being Christian, I can see we can have a better relationship with our fellow Christians because of just being able to talk about the relevant issues of our lives like the statement he made for global warming or the statement that he made for fighting hunger,” Rasoul Naghavi, 35, from Iran and a doctoral student in Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, said.
That harmony is evident on the Catholic campus where about 500 students are volunteering to help with the mass. The Secret Service, National Guard, local police and volunteers will help with security, which is a stark contrast to Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979. When the pope visited campus, his security detail was the university’s football team, Catholic President John Garvey said.
Classes will be canceled Wednesday, and students have been asked to stay in their dorm rooms as much as possible. All windows that overlook the basilica must be shut by the time the pope arrives, Garvey said.
In addition, the university conducted what Patricia Andrasik, assistant professor in the school of architecture and planning, called a “charrette” — a collaborative session to quickly generate a design solution for the temporary altar and a chair the pope will use during the Mass. While the contest was open to all university students, three students from the architecture school won.
“We could have hired an outside firm, but we wanted to bring the competition to a more interior university focus, to a collaborative focus,” Andrasik said.
Andrasik also said the students’ design was chosen for its humility and collaboration, a message the university was trying to reflect from the pope.
Along with humility, the pope tries to unite everyone from different backgrounds and advocate for equality Naghavi said. He said this perspective helps the pope contribute to the issues we face today.
“I see all of the religions from the same god like different flowers from the same garden,” Naghavi said. “We do have different backgrounds, but these different backgrounds are for solving the solution which is on the table.”
Reach reporter Jessica Pereda at [email protected] or 202-408-1493. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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