A full and varied schedule highlights Pope Francis’s first apostolic visit to the United States. If you are reading this prior to his September 2015 visit, plan to follow along with the pope on his journey through appropriate mention and study in your theology classes. If the trip has already occurred, some of these suggestions can also work well in review or in conjunction with another trip the pope will take in the future.
The itinerary of Pope Francis’s US trip includes a meeting with President Obama; an address to a joint session of Congress; a visit to a Catholic school in East Harlem; a prayer at the 9-11 memorial; an address at the United Nations headquarters; a visit to a prison in Pennsylvania; and, finally, an appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Here are nine suggestions for teaching about this historic visit in your theology class:
1. Pray for the Pope
Remember when Pope Francis appeared for the first time after his election in St. Peter’s Basilica? He asked us all to pray for him. Keep that commitment going and pray that the pope has a safe trip. Pray that God’s will be done at every stage of his journey. Have the students compose prayers of petition for specific aspects of his trip.
2. Pray for the Pilgrims
Thousands of people will be traveling to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s appearances in Washington DC and New York City. Pray for their safety during their travels and ask that God would bless each one of them with special graces and memories that last a lifetime.
3. Make Predictions
Ask the students, “What will Pope Francis say to ______ and why?”
Give them the opportunity to choose the event on the pope’s itinerary they are most interested in watching: President Obama, US Congress, US Bishops, United Nations, school, prison, and the pilgrims at the World Meeting of Families. Have them write what they predict Pope Francis will say during each of these meetings.
4. Live Stream the Events during Class
If possible, use some class time to live stream the events in class. Have the students respond in real time to what they hear the pope saying to the various groups. If you cannot live stream the events, pick the recording(s) you think were most powerful and show them in class after the visit is over. Have the students discuss them and respond to what the pope says. You could also assign the videos for homework and ask students to respond to or reflect on the meetings.
5. Research Junipero Serra
While the pope is here, he will canonize a new saint: Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, the founder of many of California’s twenty-one missions. Have the students research his life in advance of the canonization on September 23, 2015.
New member resource: Saint Junipero Serra Video
6. Research Past Papal Visits
Have the students research the past visits of Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II, and Pope Paul VI, the first pope to visit America. Assign some of their speeches and compare those visits to this visit by Pope Francis.
7. Create Social Media Content
The USCCB and the World Meeting of Families have already created logos and other images for the papal visit and there are likely to be more coming from other organizations. The students can also create their own images and videos to share on social media. Even if they will not share them on their personal accounts, have them create the content that would spread the word about the pope’s visit in positive ways.
8. Enlist the Help of the Students’ Parents
Connect this visit with the occasion of the World Meeting of Families. Reach out to the parents of your students and encourage them to watch the events of the papal visit as a family. Send them the links to any recordings or live broadcasts. Give the students assignments that require them to discuss the events with their parents.
9. Don’t Miss It
This historic visit offers a great opportunity to integrate current events into the curriculum for your course. Take some time and to consider the ways in which you can connect this visit with what you normally would teach in September. Don’t let the media dominate the conversation around this visit. Bring the conversation into your classroom and mark this memorable occasion for the entire Church in the United States.