Witnessing history: Pope’s congressional address gives DeLaSalle students food for thought

| September 25, 2015 | 0 Comments
Cutline: Keenan Moore, right, a senior at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, states a question he would like to ask Pope Francis during Faith and Society class Sept. 24. Teaching the class and leading the discussion is theology teacher Mary Joy Zawislak. Seated next to Moore is senior Claudia Blohm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Keenan Moore, right, a senior at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, states a question he would like to ask Pope Francis during Faith and Society class Sept. 24. Teaching the class and leading the discussion is theology teacher Mary Joy Zawislak. Seated next to Moore is senior Claudia Blohm. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Juniors and seniors came to Mary Joy Zawislak’s Faith and Society class at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis Sept. 24 with questions for Pope Francis.

Senior Keenan Moore wanted to know what the pontiff suggests Americans can and should do given the ISIS-inflicted violence and persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

“It’s a very pressing issue in our world right now,” he said, adding that he wasn’t expecting an answer, merely hoping for some insight.

Kyle Thompson, also a senior, would have liked to ask Pope Francis how he can strengthen his faith amid the Church’s clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“I would like to hear what he has to say because I’ve heard he has a zero tolerance for this kind of behavior and action,” Thompson said.

Although the students didn’t get to pose the questions to the pontiff, they did have the opportunity to hear if he answered any of them during his address to a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24. The students were dismissed from first hour to join others from theology and social studies classes in the commons and hear what Pope Francis had to say not just to members of Congress, but to all Americans.

Before dismissing for the assembly, Zawislak reminded them to listen closely to what Pope Francis actually says and not what they wanted to hear. To prepare students for the pope’s address, Zawislak and other teachers had students track coverage of his time in the U.S.

Back in class after the address, many students admitted they weren’t able to clearly understand what Pope Francis was saying, but they were able to decipher bits and pieces of his speech, which lasted just under an hour.

Senior Camryn Speese pointed out how open-minded Pope Francis seemed compared to his predecessors.

“It’s evident in the way that he stands, the way that he approaches many different topics,” Speese said. “Most popes probably wouldn’t have addressed some situations that he did today in the way he did. Most people probably would’ve not used Moses [as a religious reference]; they would’ve used Jesus or stuck to the Catholic side of things instead of being more open to faiths not from the same background.”

Fiona Donnelly, also a senior, said it wasn’t until she watched his address that she realized how much the entire country — not just Catholics — anticipated and appreciated Pope Francis’ visit.

Zawislak said as part of ongoing classroom discussions, she plans to ask students how the pope challenged them.

“When he delivers a message to us as Catholics, what are we going to do with that? And where are the opportunities to do that, particularly for people their age?” she asked, adding that students’ efforts could include writing letters to legislators about issues of concern or community outreach. “They get service because it’s real. They see the results.”

Describing Pope Francis as simplistic, a prophet and a peacemaker, Zawislak said it’s important that students are seeing a “multifaceted” pope.

“They’re starting to see him as a real person, not as a figurehead who’s untouchable,” she said. “Kids like that. They don’t like phonies. Who he is and how he presents himself accentuates his messages.”

DeLaSalle President Barry Lieske likens the students’ experience of watching the address to his memories of watching the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“When our students have those opportunities, those memory hooks will be in them for a lifetime,” he said.

Given the bankruptcy and clergy sexual abuse issues in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Lieske hopes students felt a sense of pride that the leader of the Catholic faith was given such a prominent platform to speak through the Church’s voice to the nation’s leaders.

“They [students] needed that. Catholic schools needed that,” he said.

He also hopes the pope’s address to Congress sends a bigger message that faith “can’t be compartmentalized into a worship experience on Sunday mornings.” Rather, “faith is in and through everything that we do. That’s the significance for us as a school,” he said.

“It’ll be fun to watch how they use it, relate to it, even challenge it,” he added.

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Category: Pope in U.S.