By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Anna Maria College student Teresa Ryan could not have imagined what her senior year would bring. At the end of her junior year, Ryan – who majors in psychology and minors in Catholic studies – heard the news that she and fellow classmates would have the opportunity to be a part of Pope Francis’ historic visit to Philadelphia.
The Shrewsbury resident knew the chance to see the Holy Father and hear him speak would be a “once in a lifetime trip” and signed up immediately.
But, in the summer, Ryan, who is a dedicated student-athlete, found out the schedule for the Catholic college’s women’s soccer team. Her team had an important conference game scheduled the same weekend as the trip. She faced a difficult choice. With the support of her teammates and coach, however, she made her decision.
“My faith is more important than my sport,” Ryan said.
On Sept. 25, Ryan and 10 fellow students joined other Catholic groups from the Worcester area as they traveled by bus to a camp in New Jersey, where they slept that Friday night and the next evening. Before they returned home Sunday night, Ryan and her friends toured Philadelphia, watched the Papal Mass and the World Meeting of Families’ Festival of Families on city jumbotrons and ate “really delicious” Philly cheese steak sandwiches. But a major highlight of the trip was the students’ visit to Independence Hall to hear the pope speak about immigrants and religious freedom.
With the VIP tickets the students had secured, they were able to see the pope up close. Although Ryan said it was funny to see many babies being held in the air, so some could be passed from security to the pope to be blessed, she also thought it was “an amazing experience.” She enjoyed Pope Francis’ speech about uniting everyone under God. Ryan was also happy to see people from so many backgrounds getting along so well at the event. Even waiting to get into the event was a fun experience.
“We were waiting for five hours, but it was so worth the wait,” recalled Ryan. “I thought it was really awesome.”
The young woman said that being in Pope Francis’ presence and hearing his words, while sharing the experience with her friends and so many people of the same faith, had an impact on her.
“It reset my faith on fire to really try to follow his example,” Ryan noted.
Ryan’s whirlwind trip has given her “really beautiful” memories, including seeing lines of priests and deacons giving Communion to people watching the Papal Mass from the street, and fun ones, such as spending time “goofing around” with her friends. But the visit left her with a simple thought to carry with her throughout her senior year.
Ryan, who hopes to work in youth or campus ministry, said “it’s all about love and bringing the Gospel to everyone.”