Guest Column: The Papal Pilgrimage

Author: Ethan Muehlstein


Miss the football game? Nope. Drive 12 hours to another city? No way. No sleep for two days? No thank you. See Pope Francis? Forget the previous questions. I’ll miss the football game to drive 12 hours to Philadelphia without any sleep just to see Pope Francis.

Unlike the pilgrimages I have attended in the past, the Papal Pilgrimage was very brief. Similar to the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, we, the pilgrims, spent 40 hours in total traveling by bus and sharing a moment in communion with our universal family.

While at mass in Philadelphia, I was fortunate to be among the crowd, standing with my brothers and sisters, partaking in communion with the Catholic Church’s fearless leader.  Five hundred Notre Dame students, 1.5 million people from all over America (California, Pennsylvania, Texas) and people from everywhere else (Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, among many others) rejoiced as the world united together to celebrate with Pope Francis. This pilgrimage, however, was not limited to the historic mass in the “City of Brotherhood.”

Leading up to the trip, many other pilgrims and I, reflected on the life of Saint Francis, Pope Francis’ namesake. For nine days leading up to the mass, the Notre Dame pilgrims prayed a novena venerating St. Francis of Assisi. Each evening, we gathered together to pray in front of the Grotto. As a community, united in spirit, we reflected on nine different topics, including simplicity, gratitude and service. By adopting these new practices in my life, I became even closer to Christ. As the Saint Francis prayer suggests, becoming closer to Christ means understanding self and sharing in humanity.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

- St. Francis

I have always had a strong veneration for St. Francis of Assisi, who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally — not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. Similarly, Pope Francis embodies the Catholic Church as the Holy Father, acting on the teachings, caring for the poor, proclaiming the values and bringing all closer to Christ. Therefore, this pilgrimage gave me the opportunity to act more on my faith, following in the footsteps of both St. Francis and Pope Francis.

The views of this author are not necessarily the views of Scholastic magazine.