For both religious and academic reasons, a group of students and staff from Mount de Sales Academy is making the journey to Philadelphia on Friday to see the pope.
The stop in Philadelphia is part of Pope Francis’ first trip to the United States.
“Among Catholics, it’s been a pretty significant event that a lot of people are looking forward to, so we knew we wanted a presence,” said Mike Franklin, principal of Mount de Sales’ upper school.
Leaders of the private school in Macon decided to take a group of students and opened an application process. Of the 25 students who applied for the trip, 18 were selected and will be joined by four adults, including Franklin.
Franklin, who is Catholic, said he has recently started to think beyond the details of trip planning to the enthusiasm about his first trip to see the leader of his faith in person.
“Actually, I got really excited last night. I was watching a biography on PBS about him,” Franklin said Wednesday. “It’s definitely beginning to sink in.”
The group will leave at 5 a.m. Friday and return about 8 p.m. Monday. While in Philadelphia, the group will get to hear the pope speak twice and see him on a parade through the city.
Students will document the trip and share their thoughts on camera during the journey. They’ll produce a video for their peers to watch later.
“I think everyone should have that opportunity to see what we did if they’re not able to go,” said sophomore Tom Ferrer, one of the students in the group.
In addition to seeing the pope in person, Ferrer was intrigued by the opportunity to grow his own faith.
“I hope that when I go and see him, I have more of a revival in faith,” he said. “Because sometimes you get bogged down. ... I think it really will open my eyes to see the leader of my faith.”
Ferrer, whose family is Cuban, said his grandparents have been especially interested in the trip. They followed the pope’s recent visit to Cuba and are happy for their grandson.
“When I told my grandparents, they were super excited, more excited than I’ve ever seen them be,” he said. “It was amazing to see just how, for lack of a better word, excited they were for me to have this opportunity.”
Ferrer also is looking forward to the chance to meet people from different parts of the world. The pope’s visit to Philadelphia coincides with the World Meeting of Families, a Catholic gathering held every three years.
“That’s a huge part of the reason I wanted to go,” he said. “I hope that with everyone coming together in one place, I’ll get to talk to a lot people and hear what they have to say, because I’m really interested in meeting and hearing the stories of a lot of different people.”
Those connections are part of the draw for the journey, said Gabe Germann, chairman of Mount de Sales’ theology department. He said he’s hopeful that students participating will experience the “universality” of the faith.
“So students will experience that they are part something so much larger than themselves, but at the same time through the worship, through listening to (the) message of Pope Francis, and then through the many great encounters with kids and with other people of faith, they will have a chance to get excited about who they are, and what God sees in them, and what is possible for them,” he said in an email.
The trip isn’t the school’s only connection to the pope’s tour of the U.S. A 1951 graduate of the school, Sister Grace Marie Dillard of Savannah, accepted an invitation to be part of the pope’s arrival ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
She was nominated by 1981 graduate Douglas Brooks, the director of Office of National AIDS Policy for the White House.
“I got the call from the White House in the middle of a doctor’s appointment,” she said in a news release from the school, noting that former Mount de Sales football coach Robert Slocum tipped her off about the call. “I politely excused myself, took the call and it was Douglas.”
The pope is scheduled to return to Rome on Sunday evening after his time in Philadelphia.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.