Senior Gerard Gayou will participate in canonization Mass as a gift bearer.
Tuesday night dinners at the George Washington University Newman Catholic Student Center usually attract a big crowd, but the event is busier and more exciting than usual just one week before Pope Francis visits Washington, D.C.
A thick, buzzing line of about 70 students cluster around the small yellow building’s entrance. The students lean forward in unison, straining to hear words from Newman Center’s chaplain, the Rev. Adam Park, who has a special announcement: One student will be able to meet Pope Francis and participate in Wednesday’s canonization Mass as a gift bearer during the pre-communion procession.
That student is senior Gerard Gayou, the president of GW Catholics.
Just days ago, Mr. Gayou found out that the Archdiocese of Washington was looking for a handful of students from local universities to represent young people during a Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Given Mr. Gayou’s work and dedication to the Newman Center over the past four years, Rev. Park and campus minister Julie Cilano decided he would be the right choice.
He found out he would be attending the Mass earlier through a text message from Rev. Park. The first thing he did after getting the news was call his parents in St. Louis to tell them the news.
“Its an unbelievable blessing. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Obviously, that’s a big cliché, but I think it actually really does describe this moment,” Mr. Gayou said.
It is not just that he will meet the pope. It is also the size and scope of the event. The papal visit to Washington, D.C., is historic. It marks the first time that a pope will address Congress.
The pope will arrive in the United States from Cuba Tuesday when his plane lands at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C. The next day, he will meet with President Barack Obama, participate in a papal parade and midday prayer at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue NW and lead a Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception next to the Catholic University of America. His speech to a joint-session of Congress comes Thursday, followed by stops at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in downtown Washington and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The pope’s visit is expected to draw thousands of people to different venues in D.C., most of them around the White House Ellipse to view the parade and to the National Mall to watch his address to Congress on jumbotrons.
"I think he resonates with young people, because young people don’t mind being challenged,” Ms. Cilano said. “They want the bar raised, and Pope Francis isn’t afraid to do that.”
Mr. Gayou said that the pope’s accessibility has made him universally likeable, not just among Catholic communities.
“I think every pope in my lifetime has been welcoming and loving to all people, but what sets Pope Francis apart is that he is seen as such a down-to-earth guy. He speaks from the heart and just represents the church in a different, new way, which I think is refreshing for young people,” Mr. Gayou said. “We definitely love him."
At Tuesday’s Newman Center dinner, Rev. Park had a couple more surprises in store. He has 10 tickets for students who want to attend the canonization Mass, and 10 tickets for students who want to see the pope off at Joint Base Andrews. He put more than 130 names in a lottery to select the lucky students.
One of the names that emerged from the lottery was sophomore Ema Beeler, who will attend the pope’s sendoff. She’s frequently the cook behind the Newman Center’s free Tuesday night dinners—tonight, she has coordinated making about 75 chicken parmesan dishes for guests—and she helps lead small prayer groups at the organization.
She has been a part of the Newman Center’s full preparations for the visit. The small row house that serves as the gathering spot for GW Catholics was renovated last year. The cozy interior is stacked with all kinds of papal paraphernalia: Bracelets emblazoned with “Walk With Francis,” brochures, prayer pledges and even a life-size cutout of the Catholic pontiff. Since the parade will take place a short walk away from GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus, the center will put out a full banner welcoming the pope, and they’ll organize groups of students to walk over to the event together.
“We’re preparing ourselves spiritually and also in charity and in hope and faith because that’s really what he is about,” Ms. Beeler said before adding with a laugh, “I’m so excited I could cry. There will be tears. I’ve accepted that.”
While she helps Rev. Park, Ms. Cilano and the rest of GW Catholics get ready for the historic visit, Mr. Gayou is reminding himself that he has a job to do when the pope arrives.
“Honestly, I hope I don’t drop anything. I hope I don’t trip. I hope to be in the moment, because I’m going to remember it the rest of my life. And I definitely want to remember that I do have a role in the Mass. It’s not just, ‘You’re meeting the pope,’ but I’m helping in this event, and it’s a huge honor to be able to contribute to Pope Francis’ visit a little bit.”
Rev. Adam Park joins GW students Gerard Gayou and Matthew Ludwig with a cardboard replica of Pope Francis in the front room of the Newman Catholic Student Center. Mr. Gayou will meet the real Pope Francis this Wednesday when he participates in Mass as a gift bearer. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
Crowds Will Impact GW Campus
The George Washington University will be open during the pope’s visit with the exception of the 17th Street Corcoran Building, which will be closed on Wednesday while Pope Francis visits the White House. The Corcoran Building will reopen on Thursday. Corcoran students, staff and faculty with questions should contact Sam Inman at [email protected].
GW students and employees are strongly encouraged to take Metro. As with other special events, road closures, parking restrictions and bus detours are expected throughout the pope's visit to the District.
The Foggy Bottom Campus will experience an increased number of visitors and vehicular and pedestrian traffic on Wednesday because of the welcoming ceremony at the White House and public viewing parade on the Ellipse.
About 20 student volunteers from the university’s Emergency Medical Response Group (EMeRG) will aid the city by providing standby medical coverage at various papal visit sites throughout the District, including the White House welcoming ceremony and the parade.
EMeRG—a group of students licensed to provide Basic Life Support by Washington, D.C.—has worked during presidential inaugurations, as well as last November’s Concert for Valor and April’s Global Citizen Festival.
Still, Pope Francis’ visit will be an especially big undertaking. Significant road closures and thousands of spectators expected to line the streets beginning at 4 a.m. Wednesday, will escalate the potential for injuries or accidents.
“There is going to be a lot of movement,” said Austin A. Magnuson, vice president for public relations at EMeRG and a junior in the Columbian College of Arts in Sciences.
EMeRG has mapped out the quickest and most efficient routes to drive through crowds of spectators in the case of an ambulatory emergency.
“We’re an all-volunteer group, but we’re chosen by federal safety and security agencies to provide medical coverage,” said Mr. Magnuson, who saw Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican a few years ago. “This is a real honor for us, and we are all pretty excited.”