They flowed in from all over to see and hear Pope Francis speak his mind to our elected leaders, a flood of modern pilgrims ready to take instruction from the Holy See's point man.
Tens of thousands of folks made their way to the Capitol Thursday to witness the pontiff’s appearance before a joint session of Congress, braving congested security checkpoints and prolonged exposure to a glaring sun to bear witness to the rarest of occasions — the ultimate confluence of church and state.
Many of those who swarmed the congressional lawn were clad from head to toe in Catholic school gear.
Everywhere HOH looked we saw DeMatha Catholic High School rowing hats, Georgetown University sweaters, Gonzaga College High School soccer jerseys, St. Mary’s College of Maryland hoodies, Academy of the Holy Cross golf shirts, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School sweatshirts and Catholic University of America tees.
The secular minded were well represented, too.
Although they were somewhat harder to spot within the wildly diverse crowd.
Some attendees, such as the immigration reform advocates who caravanned all the way from Minnesota, had a specific agenda in mind.
Members of that group said they were hopeful Francis would persuade U.S. lawmakers to abandon proposed impediments to citizenship and embrace a more all-inclusive worldview.
Others seemed content to just see what all the commotion was about.
“I was raised Catholic, but I don’t identify as Catholic. Let’s see what this pope can do,” Connor Rohan, vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association, told CQ Roll Call alumna-turned-NPR correspondent Susan Davis about his trek to the Hill.
A few even played devil’s advocate.
“The pope’s autograph … that would be a worth a lot,” theorized one would-be capitalist looking to monetize this particular papal chase.
Most onlookers, however, appeared genuinely interested in gleaning guidance from the visiting dignitary.
Alexandria, Va., residents Peter and Carly Donohue, who had staked out a spot on the West Front by 7 a.m., told HOH about the takeaways that meant most to them.
“He spoke about the dignity of every human person. I thought that really resonated with everyone here,” Peter said, adding that Francis’ decision to highlight a quartet of American thought leaders — a roster that included President Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., social activist Dorothy Day and author Thomas Merton — was truly inspired.
“He touched on a lot of American ideals … and challenged us to be thoughtful about the issues that face our nation,” Peter asserted.
Carly, meanwhile, was struck by Francis’ DIY attitude. “We did like the shout-outs to subsidiarity,” the pair recited in near unison.
Sure, there were some technical difficulties.
(Think: spotty cell service, limited sight lines, Facebook crashes.)
And, of course, there were physical constraints to contend with.
(Think: security gates, port-a-potty roulette.)
But at least one woman thought the pros vastly outweighed the cons.
“Worth it. Worth it. Worth it,” the obviously moved audience member proclaimed as she joined the crush of humanity headed toward the exit.
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