Witnessing History • Students from St. Benedict School, Holmdel, watch the pope’s address to Congress on a wide-screen television. Photo courtesy of St. Benedict School
Witnessing History • Students from St. Benedict School, Holmdel, watch the pope’s address to Congress on a wide-screen television. Photo courtesy of St. Benedict School

By David Karas | Correspondent and Christina Leslie | Staff Writer

School communities of the Diocese of Trenton didn’t let a little distance get in the way of experiencing the U.S. Papal visit.

While they could not personally witness events such as the Holy Father’s arrival at the White House, or his address to Congress, students in St. Benedict School, Holmdel, and Holy Cross School, Rumson, joined faithful around the country in watching remotely – taking it a step further by throwing a Pope Party for the occasion.

St. Benedict students in grades seven and eight spent the morning of Sept. 24 in library watching live footage of Pope Francis speaking to Congress, touching on issues ranging from immigration to capitalism, the environment to protecting the family.

School leaders said that one of the messages that resonated most with the students concerned the family, which Pope Francis said is threatened today, perhaps more than ever before.

Eighth-grader Anna Vene, also a member of St. Benedict Parish, said that she enjoyed hearing the Pope’s message because of his passion for “all of the people.”

“He tries to make a positive impact on our lives by addressing problems this world in facing,” she said. “Some of the issues even affect some of our families. I hope while Pope Francis is holding the position of Pope, these changes can be made.”

And while the event’s moniker included the word “party,” there was ample opportunity for learning.

“My favorite part of the Pope Party was getting to work together to review what we had learned by watching the Pope address Congress, as well as learning more about Pope Francis in a deeper aspect,” said eighth grader Kat Connelly. “By using what we know and using reliable websites we were able to accomplish learning more facts about the Pope on a more personable level.”

Eighth-grader Jameson Susi mentioned enjoying listening to the words of Pope Francis, and then playing a special game of bingo using the issues he discussed.

“The visit of Pope Francis was very important to me because he is very caring of all people, whether they are Catholic or not,” said Susi. “He also traveled a very long way to come and help us realize that we can fix problems in this world.”

While the older students watched the Pope’s address live, those in kindergarten through the sixth grades celebrated his visit by wearing #PopeInUSA red t-shirts and taking pictures with a special banner donated to the school, as well as with coloring pages and even taking photos of their own “Flat Francis” on their various travels. The students wrote letters to the Pope on the back of each.

 “As a Catholic, this is a once in a lifetime event,” eighth-grader Cassandra Haussmann said of the Pope’s tour through Washington, New York and Philadelphia. “It is important to watch the Pope because he is the leader of our faith and has important opinions on current events in the United States and in the world.”

Pat Sargent, an eighth-grade teacher, shared her hopes that her students picked up on the historical significance of the Pope’s message to Congress.

“I [hope] that the students would be able to make a connection between our beliefs as Catholics and the ability Congress has to enact laws to support these beliefs,” she said, adding that there is a special relevance given her role as an educator. “Recognizing the occasion of the Pope’s address to Congress was important to all of us as Catholics, but especially for the young adults I teach.”

The Holy Cross School family was invited into the gymnasium to view the arrival of the Pope at the White House Sept. 23, said William Belluzzi, principal. “I thought the Pope’s appearance with President Obama…would be a good event for the whole school to watch,” Belluzzi said. “Even the youngest kids know who the two figures are.”

The children had prepared for the papal visit by studying his life and teachings in their religion classes, he noted. Viewing the events as they occurred served as reinforcement of their faith and the makings of a memory to be shared with future generations.

“I told them, ‘It was important that you do this as a group,’” Belluzzi said. “There are certain events in people’s lives that you remember and tell your children. You can tell them you all gathered in the gym and watched it together.”