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Pope's Visit Resounds Loudly In Desert For Arizona Catholics

Published: Friday, September 25, 2015 - 4:04pm
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(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ)
Teacher Paul Fisko talks to students at Brophy College Preparatory school in Phoenix about the Pope's U.S. visit.
(Photo by Phil Latzman - KJZZ)
Students watch Pope Francis's speech to Congress during lunchtime at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Even though Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. took place on the other side of the country, Catholics in Arizona were paying close attention during this historic week.

The pope’s speech to Congress was too early for watch parties in the Valley, but the papal visit resounded in the desert where Catholics outnumber all other religious denominations.

At Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit boys-only high school in Phoenix, students were invited to view a replay of the address during lunchtime, and the room was filled.

Sam Broyles, a Brophy student, was listening closely and believes Pope Francis to be different from other popes.

“Catholicism has been come to (be) seen as a group of people who exclude others and are very strict in their laws and rules. And he’s making it something that’s about helping other people and including those, if they don’t share your exact same values and beliefs,” he said.

Fellow students Conner Nagaki and Joe Hart were impressed by the pope’s courage.

“I think I’ll just remember the way he talked with such confidence in a language he doesn’t know to people he doesn’t know of such high power in a country that’s very powerful,” Nagaki said.

“He even pointed out we’re a great country and that we do a lot of things right, but we have a lot of wrongs by sacrificing some of the rights,” Hart said.

Paul Fisko of the school’s office of faith and justice helped to arrange the student gathering. He calls it the Francis Effect.

“People are intrigued by this man and so they’re very willing to listen to him because they’ve heard from adults and maybe even other students that Francis is the kind of a guy who a lot of people are pointing to as a model of goodwill, a model of some progressive thinking about the world.”

Fisko called the pope’s visit a “teachable moment”, especially when it comes to one of issue of particular concern to Arizona.

“For the pope to speak to us in terms of the immigrant should not be seen as criminal, should not be greeted as someone to be feared but as neighbor, as human person, that speaks and resonates I think with people in Arizona.”

The Phoenix Diocese estimated there are more than 1.1 million Catholics in the state, making them the largest single religious group in the state.

At Scottsdale’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, parishioners Judy Kromer and Cynthia Spotelson attended morning mass on Thursday and were similarly impressed with Francis’s ability to reach a new audience.

“He’s a great inspiration for all Christians, every faith. He’s just a blessing to have here on American soil,” Kromer said.

“He’s more real, yes. He’s more with today’s lifestyle,” Spotelson added.

Church volunteer Jenny Carney said he’s just what Catholicism needs.

“I love this pope. I think this pope stands for so much of what is going on in the world right now, and he makes me proud to be a Catholic.”

Paul Mulligan, CEO of Catholic Charities Arizona, was proud enough to travel all the way to Washington D.C. this week.

He said the pope’s special devotion to the poor helps his cause as head of a major charity.

“His message about the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, he brought that with him from Buenos Aires. He really lived that among his own people. And yeah, coming from the Catholic Charities world myself, his message is what we all need to hear.”

Phoenix-based Congressman Ruben Gallego was in the Capitol crowd listening to the pope’s historic speech.

"His conversation on immigration reform and treating strangers in our land was very strong. But the most important thing that people are going to take away from this, or that people are going to remember, and the most powerful I think it was for Congress, was when he started talking about the Golden Rule,” he said.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was also among the state’s contingent in Washington D.C. this week.

Ducey, who is a Catholic, released a statement saying he was honored to be in attendance and that the pope's message of hope and compassion is “one the world should hear and take heart."

There was one notable absence from the Arizona Congressional Delegation during the pope’s speech.

Republican representative Paul Gosar boycotted the event because he disagrees with Francis’s views on climate change.

His representatives did not respond to requests for an interview with KJZZ.

In a statement, Gosar, a Roman Catholic himself, said he wasn’t trying to dictate doctrine to the Pontiff.

“I am by no means attempting to tell the pope what he can and can’t speak about. What I am doing is using my feet to voice my disappointment in the pope’s decision to prioritize climate change over speaking out against religious intolerance happening across the world.”

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