As Pope Francis celebrates 10 years as leader of the Catholic Church March 13, members of The Catholic University of America community reflected on how he has shaped the papacy and campus. Pope Francis’ 2015 visit was particularly memorable as it highlighted the University's unique status as a papally chartered institution.
Lucia Silecchia, associate dean of faculty research and professor of law at the Columbus School of Law, said witnessing Pope Francis celebrate the first canonization Mass in the United States was an experience she will never forget. The Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to campus.
“It inspired me with a sense of how unique Catholic University is in the life of the Church,” said Silecchia.
Silecchia said one of the biggest achievements of Pope Francis’ papacy was the release of Laudato Si’, as it increased interest in Catholic social teaching on the environment among Catholics and the wider public. She said the enduring legacy of the encyclical is its broad denunciation of a “throwaway culture” that diminishes the dignity of all creation.
“This is not merely the culture of consumerism that discards and unwisely throws away valuable goods and resources,” said Silecchia. “It is a culture that can throw away vulnerable people — those who are unborn, elderly, ill, needy, young or vulnerable in any way.
Catholic University continues to live out the message of the encyclical as one of the first universities in the world to commit to the Vatican’s initiative Laudato Si’ Action Platform and is ranked one of the greenest campuses in the U.S. by College Consensus.
Father Teo Brea, a member of the St. John Society and associate chaplain for Campus Ministry, was confirmed in sixth grade by Pope Francis, at the time Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in their native Argentina.
Father Teo said that while he remembers little from that day in a crowded Buenos Aires cathedral, he vividly recalls when Pope Francis was elected to the papacy in 2013. He added that he and another Argentine studying at a seminary in Oregon instantly became the local “experts on Pope Francis.”
“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 legacy of his 10 year pontificate. 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.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, media fellow at The Institute for Human Ecology and an expert on religious freedom issues, said Pope Francis led the defense of Christians persecuted by ISIS as one of the first world leaders to “denounce their brutal mistreatment by its proper term: genocide.” As Pope Francis enters the next decade of his pontificate, she said the Church faces the challenge of protecting the rights of Catholics around the world.
“Today, the Church, her clergy and the faithful, face similar persecution in places like China, Nicaragua and Nigeria,” said Picciotti-Bayer. “Continuing his legacy of defending those who are persecuted, encouraging their witness of the light of the faith in the midst of darkness and comforting those afflicted will most certainly inspire the global political community to act.”