By Jennifer “Salome” Albesa, Contributing Writer

Over a year ago when, I started telling my roommates, friends, coworkers, and even my boss that if Pope Francis came to the United States, I was going to drop everything and go see him. While everyone may have thought I was joking, I was actually quite serious. Soon after he was elected pope, I was surprised by Pope Francis’s criticisms of the church.

I thought, “Okay, I know he’s the pope and all, but won’t he make all the other Catholics mad with what he is and isn’t saying?”

Regardless of what other Catholics thought, I admired his dedication to shifting the focus onto the poor and marginalized. As a psychology major and now a Master of Social Work student at the Saint Leo University, my interests have always been in mental health, substance use, and helping the homeless. Pope Francis began his papacy speaking and influencing change on the issues that were closest to my heart and revitalized my faith in the Catholic Church. I was surprised that he didn’t want to talk about what all the Catholics were talking about, but, like a breath of fresh air, I was excited because someone so high up in the church seemed passionate about practicing what he and our faith preaches.

Within a couple weeks of learning about Pope Francis’s visit to the nation’s capital on Sept. 23, I began planning a trip with my close friend, Mark DeLuna, who was willing to go with me to Washington, D.C., Pope Francis’s first stop in the United States.

The first time I had visited D.C. was for Delta Phi Lambda’s National Convention in 2012. I instantly fell in love with the city and out of the three cities the pope planned to visit, I wanted most to come back to our nation’s capital. I drove five hours down to Gainesville, FL to meet up with Mark, who ended up driving the entire way up to and down from D.C. (he’s the real MVP). The trip was around 12 hours one way. We both work full-time jobs, and I am back in graduate school full-time. But we were very committed to seeing the Holy Father.

A friend from my time spent in Student Government Association at the University of West Florida, Damian Arias, currently lives right outside of D.C., and I contacted him to let him know we were coming up.

IMG_7011Damian was able to score us tickets to see Pope Francis address the public in front of the Capitol after his address to Congress. Mark and I were ecstatic that things were coming together so well for us. We visited the Library of Congress, toured some of the Capitol with Damian serving as our guide, saw the Washington Monument, paid our respects at the World War II memorial, walked along the Reflecting Pool (one of my favorite things to see in D.C.), and of course, visited the big man at the Lincoln Memorial. After logging over 21,000 steps, Mark and I went back to our hotel to prepare for the next day.

Gates into the parade route area were scheduled to open at 4 a.m.. Mark and I arrived early at around 3:30 a.m. and waited with a growing group of people for the security checkpoint to open. We were incredibly fortunate to get a spot right along the security railing on The Ellipse. For about eight 8 hours, Mark and I weathered temperatures in the upper 50s (pretty much freezing for a couple of unprepared Floridians) with people from many different backgrounds. The people standing around us came from all over the U.S. and even from other countries. It was nothing short of amazing to see the crowds that gathered to come see the pope.

Finally, we saw on a large screen that Pope Francis had boarded his Popemobile and was ready to set out for the parade route. The crowd grew excited. People were playing guitars, shaking tambourines, singing familiar hymns in English and in Spanish, and waving their Vatican flags.

While the parade was brief, our dedication paid off, and we were able to get a very good glimpse of the Holy Father in person. Cameras and phones went up all around us, and as the Popemobile slowly drove by, we saw a few feet away (who we later came to find) the little five-year old Sophie Cruz as she ran to the vehicle to give Pope Francis her message on immigration.

Pope Francis waves to crowdgoers during the Papal Parade on his visit to the nation's capital on Sept. 23.

Pope Francis waves to crowdgoers during the Papal Parade on his visit to the nation’s capital on Sept. 23.

We left The Ellipse satisfied with our momentary chance to see the Pope. The next day, we came to the heavily guarded West Front of the Capitol to see Pope Francis address the public. However, our position among the thousands of people gathered was no match to where we were during the parade. Nonetheless, we were grateful for the opportunity to see and listen, on that day and throughout his visit, to Pope Francis’s words as he emphasized our responsibility to care for one another:

“Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the wellbeing of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

Next stop: the Vatican?

Jennifer Albesa, UWF alumna, visits the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C. on Sept. 22.

Jennifer Albesa, UWF alumna, visits the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C. on Sept. 22.


EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: All personal statements, beliefs, and opinions in this article are subject to the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jade Times and/or Delta Phi Lambda.


Beckwith, R. T. (2015, September 24). Read the Speech Pope Francis Gave to Congress. Retrieved September 29, 2015, from

Featured Image: Jennifer Albesa

Article Image: Jennifer Albesa