Marymount Students Blessed by Pope Francis

Seeing Pope Francis for 10 seconds outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was worth the commitment of an entire day for Jimmy Carroll, a Marymount University junior from Alexandria.

“It was incredible,” said Carroll, who was in a group of 45 Marymount students with tickets to the Mass on Wednesday attended by more than 20,000 people on the grounds of the basilica, located at the Catholic University of America.

“We couldn’t see anything from our seats but the Jumbotron and that’s all we expected to see of the Holy Father,” said Carroll, a communications major. “But when he arrived, his entrance was right next to us. He walked by – maybe 10 feet away. We were yelling, ‘Papa! Papa! I yelled out, ‘I love you, Papa!” and he looked right at me and waved. It was incredible!”

Sarah Hall, a junior from Mechanicsville, called the experience “surreal.”

“He blessed us as he walked by,” the elementary education major said. “I was in shock. It was almost like, ‘Did that really happen?”

Carroll agreed.

“When he went inside, we all looked at each other and everyone started crying,” he said. “It was so powerful, seeing a world leader, the successor to Peter, and the Vicar of Christ walk by and acknowledge you. It was just wild!”

Francis, the 266th pope, is only the fourth to visit the United States and the third to visit Washington. His six-day trip also included stops in New York and Philadelphia.

“We saw as many young people as old people in the crowd,” Carroll said. “Even those who aren’t Catholic love him so much. I hear that all the time.”

Earlier that day, the pope met with President Obama, greeted thousands during a presidential parade, attended midday prayer with American Bishops and celebrated Mass that afternoon at the basilica.

The following day he addressed a joint session of Congress, and then said a prayer blessing for the homeless clients of St. Maria’s Meals in Washington.

“He’s very much for the people,” Carroll said. “He could have had lunch with the president but instead he spent time with the homeless. This guy just goes to great extent to show love.”

The whirlwind Wednesday began early for the Marymount group, which left the university at 6:30 a.m. They didn’t get home until after 9 p.m.

“Our feet really hurt but we were so excited that we didn’t care,” Carroll said. “It was more than worth it.”

Hall, who said the 78-year-old pontiff was challenging us to live our lives more faithfully and spiritually, described Francis as “very genuine.”

“One day it will be really cool to tell my kids and grandkids that I was part of history,” she added.

Photo captions:

Photo 1
A group of Marymount students were among the more than 20,000 people who attended Mass on Wednesday on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Photo 2
The Marymount students, who expected to only be able to watch Pope Francis from a giant screen during the Mass, were surprised when the pontiff made his entrance onto the grounds within 10 feet of them.

Photo 3
Jimmy Carroll, a junior at Marymount University, said the 10 seconds he saw Pope Francis was worth the entire day.