Pope Francis celebrates mass on the steps of the Basilica

By Cecilia Engbert

When Argentinian-born Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected to the papacy 10 years ago, Monsignor Kevin Irwin was teaching at Catholic University’s Rome program and had a front row seat to the election and inauguration of Pope Francis in his role as an expert for CNN, starting a connection between the campus and pontiff.

Two years later, Pope Francis visited Catholic University, celebrating the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and driving through the crowds gathered on campus.

Yet, for some on campus, the bonds with some at the University go even further back.

Argentinian Father Teo Brea, a member of the St. John Society who became a University chaplain this year, was confirmed by Pope Francis, at the time Cardinal Bergoglio, in sixth grade.

Although he remembers little from that day many years ago in the crowded cathedral of Buenos Aires, he does recall the day that Pope Francis was elected to the papacy. By then a seminarian in Oregon, he and another Argentinian seminarian instantly became the local experts on Pope Francis.

“We actually didn’t know that much about (Francis), besides what was in the news: He’s from Buenos Aires, he’s very austere, he’s always had a heart for the marginalized,” said Father Teo. “That has been a constant as a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, and then as Pope.”

Father Teo said Pope Francis’ emphasis on mission life and social justice is an important highlight of his 10-year pontificate.

“The call is to everyone. If you have encountered Jesus, there is no excuse not to proclaim it,” said Father Teo. He said at Campus Ministry they embrace that call.

“Campus Ministry doesn’t just wait for people to show up knocking on their doors; they really go out,” he said. “I think the most profound way of being faithful to Pope Francis is one-on-one interactions.”

Many students participate in on-campus evangelization as resident ministers or House ministers, programs where upperclassmen reach out to peers and first-year students, and Campus Ministry works with 56 different community partners over the year, providing hundreds of social justice opportunities.

Father Teo said the Pope would be proud of Campus Ministry’s efforts in social justice.

“He would be really happy. All the service that is motivated through this office wants to express our faith, that’s the deepest motivation for service in the Catholic Church,” said Father Teo. “One of the authentic traits of a disciple is he has Jesus’ sensibility for the poor."