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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

A handshake with the pope

When they won the election for executive positions on the Saint Joseph’s University Student Senate, two students never dreamed that election would mean that they would one day shake the hand of the pope.

During the Student Senate meeting Monday, Sept. 21, Nick Chingas, ’16, president of the Student Senate, Saint Joseph’sand Natalie Roche, ’17, vice president of the Student Senate, were invited by University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D., to attend the Papal Mass held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.

They were told to meet at Regis Hall at 1 p.m. to depart for the mass, but as they made their way over to the Office of the President that day, it was clear that those plans had changed.

“All morning the rumor mill had sort of been churning about what could be transpiring that day,” Chingas said.

When they finally arrived at Regis Hall, Chingas and Roche were told that in a few hours Pope Francis would be arriving on campus and that they would be a part of the greeting party.

“I cried as soon as [Reed] told me,” Roche said.

But it was clear that the only way the Pope was going to visit was if everything went exactly according to plan, Chingas said.

“The crowds had to be under control, he had to have a little bit of leeway in his schedule…and thank goodness everything went right, and stars aligned, and all of us who were there got to experience something that only occurs once in a lifetime, if it does at all,” Chingas said.

Chingas and Roache were also informed by both the secret service and Reed that they could not tell any- one about what was soon to happen—not even their families—for security reasons.

Chingas and Roche, along with Reed and other members of the university, eventually made their way down to the lawn outside of the Chapel of St. Joseph, where students and other members of the universi- ty were barricaded back along the sides of the chapel, awaiting the arrival of the pope.

The rumble of motorcycles was soon heard, and in the blink of an eye, the Sourin Residence Hall parking lot was filled with police cars, vehicles, motorcycles, and one little black Fiat.

“As soon as he stepped foot into that parking lot I cracked up, I was like, ‘The Pope is in the Sourin parking lot right now.’ That was just so funny to me,” Roche said.

Pope Francis walked up the sidewalk leading to the Chapel of St. Joseph and was greeted by Reed. He then moved along to greet others, eventually arriving at Chingas and Roche.

“It was a short conversation, but it was life-chang- ing none the less,” Chingas said.

Chingas began by saying “Bienvenidos,” and then thanked Pope Francis for visiting the United States and Saint Joseph’s, he said.

“[And] when I had finished welcoming him, I said, ‘Please pray for us as we will continue to pray for you,’ and he thanked me, and assured me that we are in his prayers,” Chingas said.

Chingas then presented Pope Francis with a gift from the university. An avid soccer fan, the pope was given a Saint Joseph’s University soccer jersey with the number 36 meant to represent 1936, the year that the pope was born.

“I was told by the Vatican photographer to hold the jersey up,” said Chingas, “and at that point the crowd just went crazy.”

After the jersey exchange, Pope Francis was greeted by Roche.

“You could tell that he was so tired but he was still so excited to be here,” Roche said. “I said to him, ‘Thank you for your love and happiness,’ and then he shook my hand back and he said, “I pray for you as you pray for me.’”

The students were both given World Meeting of Families medals as gifts, and although they did not make it down to the mass as originally planned, both expressed the honor they felt for being chosen for such a momentous occasion and that it is something they will never forget.

“I’m going to tell my kids and they’re going to tell their kids, ‘Grandma met the Pope,’” Roche said.

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