ROME – Among the sea of people flooding St. Peter’s Square in anticipation of Pope Francis’s general audience right after his meeting with President Trump, U.S. students wait hoping to have a glimpse of the pontiff and insight into what transpired during the momentous meeting.
The students have traveled all the way from Massachusetts to Rome for a two-week experience through the SOPHIA (SOPHomore Initiative at Assumption College) program, designed to help students discover a deeper connection between their spiritual, personal and professional lives, according to their site.
The group of millennials could barely contain its enthusiasm at the idea of being so close to the pope in this pivotal moment in U.S. – Vatican relations. “Waking up this morning I had tears in my eyes just thinking that I would get to see the pope up close,” Mark San Clemente, 19, told Crux.
“I think it’s cool that we are here on this historical day when our president’s here. We are praying for peace and we are hoping that the meeting went well.”
The Assumption students could not pick a more important day for their visit to the Vatican, nor a more chaotic one as armed vehicles, military officers, and choppers monitored the scene of the long-awaited summit.
“I really hope that Pope Francis is able to communicate to President Trump to find the love and respect for all people,” San Clemente said over the sound of police sirens. “I feel like there is a lot of division in our country right now between different groups based on race, gender, sexuality and I just hope that Pope Francis can communicate to President Trump that we love all people and it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are, but everyone deserves the same kind of respect because we are all human beings.”
“Oh gosh…” was the first reaction of Lucas Foerster, a 20-year old from Maine, when he found out that Trump was going to meet with Pope Francis.
“It’s almost like two worlds colliding,” Foerster told Crux. “We have the capitalist president of the United States and then obviously the pope and we are very interested to see what will come of this.
“I think that this might be a good eye-opening experience for Trump,” Foerster continued, saying that his hope is that the environment will also make an appearance during their discussion, based on Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato’ Si on the care for creation. “If he could slide that in there I would be so thankful,” he added.
But that is not all that Trump could learn from his meeting with the widely popular pope according to Foerster. “One word that I would say Trump should get from Pope Francis is the word respect, because I think that you can use that in any context and Trump should respect people of other nationalities, other races, and other sexualities and genders and Pope Francis does a great job of doing that,” he said.
“I hope that with this meeting Pope Francis can really instill in President Trump tolerance and respect for all people,” Katelyn Coyle, 20, agreed.
Emily Capasso, 20, said that this meeting between the pope and Trump takes place at a very crucial point in American history.
“I think our country is definitely in a place right now where we need someone like Pope Francis,” Capasso told Crux. “We are all praying that Pope Francis and the peace that he brings with him will maybe have an influence on president Trump and our nation.
“It’s very clear to me that the Holy Spirit really works through Pope Francis in an effort toward peace and love and he does such good work toward those who are marginalized by society.”
Capasso stressed that though Christianity has been an important bulwark of the Trump administration, those values do not often translate into policies. It will be very important for Trump to hear what “Pope Francis has said before that Muslims are our neighbors and we must love them and not treat them badly,” she said.
Jiulia Demcoviks, 19, bubbled with enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing the pope and said that she hoped this meeting reminds United States citizens that “we are very fortunate and that we have the power to help those who can’t help themselves and we need to utilize that more instead of shying away from it and just help our own people.”
For Demcoviks, concern for the poor should be at the heart of the summit. “I think that Pope Francis should teach Donald Trump that this world shouldn’t run on business and money and power but it should really be driven by peace and love and acceptance of all people,” she told Crux.
For Sara Amato, 19, this encounter could be life changing for Trump. “I think Pope Francis is definitely a pope for all people,” Amato said. “I am really hoping that Pope Francis can rub off on him (Trump) and he can truly become a president for all people.”
But while all students agreed that there might be a “Pope Francis Effect” on Donald Trump, they were skeptical on whether the opposite could also occur, where ‘The Donald’ could actually influence the Argentinian pontiff.
“There is no way that he (Trump) could rub off on the pope,” Foerster told Crux. “Just seeing how the pope conducts himself, he has his thought and he has his beliefs and he is sticking to them.
“I think Trump could really benefit from sticking to something and really focusing on it.”
The best one can hope is that the unlikely duo communicate effectively according to San Clemente. “I don’t think that Pope Francis is going to take any of Donald Trump’s policies” San Clemente said.
“Because… Pope Francis is just the coolest guy ever!”