Jesuit Schools Gather for Pilgrimage, Pope, Cheesesteaks

A Celebratory Spirit

Over 300 students from over 40 different Jesuit high schools from all corners of the United States—as well as a few intrepid explorers from Canada and Puerto Rico—are gathered here in Philadelphia for “2 Philly 4 Francis,” organized and hosted by St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.

This gathering of students to commemorate and participate in Pope Francis’s historic trip began on Thursday around noon.  The hosts at St. Joseph’s Prep had music blasting, bags of swag ready, hands waiting to carry luggage from vans to classrooms and more hospitality than they knew what to do with.  As each successive school group arrived, I found myself getting more and more excited by the energy slowly but surely building in the plaza next to the school.

The Jesuit high school students soon found themselves getting to know each other over Philadelphia soft pretzels, wiffleball and frisbees.  By the time dinner was ready (cheesesteaks, obviously), I was beaming from ear to ear.  Sure, it was great to see some old friends and make some new ones.  But what truly touched my heart was the simple, good natured camaraderie the students enjoyed with each other.  They share two basic connections: 1.) They all go to Jesuit high schools.  2.) They all came here to Philly because they want to see Pope Francis.  Beyond that, it’s tough to pick out any overarching similarities among them.

Yet these two simple facts were enough to create a joyful and festive mood among hundreds of teenagers who had never met each other a few short hours earlier.  The celebratory spirit even spilled over to a Jesuit scholastic who’s lucky enough to be in town to accompany these students for the weekend.

– Danny Gustafson, S.J.

On a Journey, Together

Despite minimal sleep and little personal space, these high school students have internalized that this is a “pilgrimage, not a vacation” and still beam with joy and frequent, wild applause—while playing dodgeball, exchanging t-shirts with students from different schools or hearing that there might be bacon and eggs for breakfast.

But bacon and eggs don’t compare with the excitement they have for the Pope.

In addition to attending social events with their fellow high school students and catching serious cases of Papal Fever, these pilgrims have prayed together and attended talks and breakout sessions on the themes of joy, mercy and encounter. We at The Jesuit Post offered a talk on “The Top 5 Pope Francis-Approved Methods of Encounter.” The combination of fun and faith, laughter and depth, has led one student to call 2 Philly 4 Francis—in a phrase I never thought I would hear from a high school student—“the bee’s knees”:

If this is already the bee’s knees, what is going to be like when they actually see the #PopeInPhilly?

– Michael Rossmann, S.J.

True Encounter

Below are simply two thoughts from a day of encountering students who hunger for the joy and mercy that Francis preaches.

First, I could not get Pope Francis’ homily from Vespers at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral out of my head. He spoke movingly about two cornerstones of religious and priestly life: gratitude and hard work. In that homily he reassured each of us in ministry that God values our work. Can I see my work from God’s perspective? Maybe grading history paragraphs or working on our keynote address won’t land me on the front pages, but conscientious, loving service to my students and the 2 Philly 4 Francis pilgrims makes God smile an avuncular, pat-on-the-back sort of smile. And this makes me grateful and helps me push on.

Second, I was back home. I graduated from the The Prep in 2004 and I loved my time there dearly. I was formed there through loyal friends, caring and patient teachers, exhilarating football games and mixers, and an environment that let me safely question my beliefs in a variety of disciplines. I grew up here in the best sense. Upon returning here Friday at 2 Philly 4 Francis, I beamed knowing that my beloved Prep and her Preppers were showing students from across America their best selves. Most especially I could share my high school with the students at whose high school I teach. As they’ve invited me into their city and their Cristo Rey home for three years and, now, I can return the favor in a small way.

– Vinny Marchionni, S.J.

For more updates on papal activities this weekend, please follow us on Twitter @TJPOnTour.