I Didn’t Care About the Pope Until I Got to See Him

Sara Agate is a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellow working on Capitol Hill and this is her experience during Pope Francis’ visit to the White House. 

Working on Capitol Hill has some perks.

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The biggest one is being present when history is being made.

A major perk – for many – was being offered tickets to sit on the West Lawn for Pope Francis’ visit.

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Our office offered staff tickets and most took advantage of the opportunity to be in the Pope’s presence – and that of 50,000 other people.

But I passed.

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I know. Who would pass, right? But I felt neutral – which is rare for me. I usually am on one side or the other of things.

However, another opportunity came around.

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Our office announced they were raffling five extra tickets to see Pope Francis arrive at the White House. So I entered because, why not?

Then it hit me…

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To see my beloved President Barack Obama next to Pope Francis would be EPIC.

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I felt my late, devote Catholic Nonna would be so happy. Growing up in a Mexican and Sicilian Catholic family (although some are Christian), I knew the importance of the Pope. In my families’ homes you can find statues, photos or candles of Virgin Marys, Our Lady of Guadalupes, Saint Josephs, and of course, rosaries – in every room. Plus, everyone has a cross necklace.

Surprisingly, I won!

Credit: Sara Agate

Still rather than being excited about the pope, my first thought was, I’m going to be in the presence of the first black President of the United States and in his DC backyard.

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That’s what I was honestly most excited about. And, as a Chicagoan, I felt proud to think of my roots back there connected to President Obama.

Then gratitude started kicking in.

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Finally, I was in the White House backyard. I began chatting with my colleagues and during our quiet moments I thought about how this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I couldn’t help but think about how few people of color there were in the crowd of people. I felt glad to be there, yet fully conscience of my commitment to strive for justice and equality.

Three hours later – the moment everyone was waiting for.

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President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama warmly greeted Pope Francis. My favorite part of this moment? When President Obama said, “…to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity.” This really resonated with me and the privilege I had to stand there in those moments represented a small way of standing for justice and equality – I have to believe it.

Standing here on this day now represented everything I believe in.

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I have to believe that standing there was upholding all those who supported me getting to that moment. To all the justice seekers and sponsors who value my diversity. I have to believe that next time there will be a sea of all shades of people getting access to high profile events like this one and I have to be a part of keeping and creating those pipelines.

For a moment, the arrival celebration transcended all human differences.

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I appreciate the Pope’s candor on issues like immigration, climate change and his progressive attitude to use his influence to make the world a better place.

Then he said, “When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of our history.”

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Catholic or not – the path to justice and equality is mixed with struggle and celebration. Today was a celebration with a conscience.

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