Pope Francis' first visit enthralls America

October 15, 2015
By SR. CAROL KEEHAN, DC
CHA president and chief executive officer

Sept. 22 began a glorious week for our church and for our country. Pope Francis arrived and won the hearts of the American people; and, judging from his comments on his way home, we won his heart as well.

It was thrilling to watch the nation prepare so joyfully for his arrival. CHA was privileged to have tickets for many of his Washington events and board members, staff, local hospital chief executives and sponsors braved a 5 a.m. start to be at the White House when he arrived at 9:15 a.m.

It was a postcard perfect Washington day and President Obama had prepared an elegant welcome for our Holy Father. Up the White House driveway came a long black limousine with papal flags flying and it went right past President and Mrs. Obama and then a little black Fiat pulled up and out came the pope.


Color guards and a crowd of 11,000 VIPs and other invited guests prepare to greet Pope Francis at the White House on Sept. 23.

The respect and affection the president has for Pope Francis was evidenced in his words of welcome and the gratitude he expressed to our Holy Father for his moral leadership. After an impressive musical welcome by many branches of the service, the pope accompanied President and Mrs. Obama into the White House and came out on the portico. It was a thrilling sight and the crowd was ecstatic.


Pope Francis waves from a White House balcony.

Thus began a whirlwind of activities so well covered by major media. It will take a lot of reflection on our Holy Father's various talks to fully grasp all the treasure in his messages. What was immediately crystal clear was that whether he was talking to Congress or prisoners, he captured their hearts.

Perhaps the best part of the visit was watching the response of people to the pope and the pope to people. This was especially true with children and the most vulnerable. In spite of a grueling schedule, our Holy Father was visibly energized as soon as he saw individuals from either group.


Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, CHA’s president and chief executive officer, at left, and Sr. Judith Ann Karam, CSA, CHA’s chairperson and congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, await the pope’s arrival.

His messages to our country about people who are poor, marginalized, or immigrants and the impact of unfair economic systems and climate change on them reflect Catholic social teaching at its best. Pope Francis' focus on our shared dignity as children of God and therefore our responsibility for each other was masterfully presented. It calls us all to think about how we might do more to make this world better for the millions of vulnerable and as a result better for all of us.

It has been a great joy and blessing to hear so many people of our faith, other faiths and no faith reflect on how much they admire Pope Francis and how important his message is. It reminds us all to thank God for Pope Francis and to pray for him.

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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