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.

Credit: Sara Agate

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.

Credit: Sara Agate

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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The Vatican Threatened to Fire Employees Who Refuse to Get the Vaccine, But Is Now Walking it Back

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The Vatican Threatened to Fire Employees Who Refuse to Get the Vaccine, But Is Now Walking it Back

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On February 8th Pope Francis signed a health ordinance written by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello. The ordinance threatened to “interrupt employment” of anyone who refuses the vaccine without a valid medical reason.

The decree cited a 2011 law that says employees will face “varying degrees of consequences that could lead to dismissal” if they do not take proper safety precautions.

They also added that those who are unable to get vaccinated for legitimate reasons will be transferred to a position that does not interact with the public as much.

Although many were surprised by the decree, the message is line with Pope Francis’s longtime stance towards vaccines. Last month, Pope Francis told that Italian press that choosing to vaccinate is “an ethical choice”.

“[Without vaccines], you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others,” he said. Pope Francis received his vaccine in January.

The news quickly caused an uproar on social media, with many finding the decree to be overly harsh.

Many social media users finding the decree to be overly-controlling and contrary to Pope Francis’s general message of grace and mercy, and the right to individual freedom.

Of course, some people became worried about the implications of this requirement, their minds conjuring up images of dystopic futures. “Wait until the next stage, where those who choose not to or can’t have the ‘vaccine’ will be excluded from society,” wrote one frightened Twitter user. “Already happening in Israel, the Vatican and Indonesia.”

Some people, however, seemed to not have paid attention in social studies.

For example, controversial GOP Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina tweeted out that the Pope’s decree “doesn’t sound legal”.

“This doesn’t sound legal…” he tweeted. “One shouldn’t be forced against their will to be vaccinated. The vaccination is there for those who want it, and are in need of it due to medical vulnerabilities.”

While this may be a righteous philosophy, the Pope is, indeed, allowed to do this. As historian John Marshall told Cawthorn: “Sir, you are aware the Vatican is a sovereign city state, governed by an absolute monarch?” Marshall tweeted. “It’s not governed by American law…”

Still, the backlash prompted Vatican officials to amend their stance on mandatory vaccinations.

Cardinal Bertello’s office released a statement on Thursday night saying that “alternative solutions” would be given for those who don’t want a vaccine. Bertello’s office wrote that the decree had been “intended to allow a flexible and proportionate response to the balance between the health protection of the community and the freedom of individual choice”.

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Pope Francis Says That Women Are Now Allowed to Read Scripture During Mass and People Have Conflicting Emotions


Pope Francis Says That Women Are Now Allowed to Read Scripture During Mass and People Have Conflicting Emotions

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On Monday, Pope Francis announced that he has amended the Code of Canon Law, the official Catholic doctrine to formally allow women to give readings from the bible during mass.

Pope Francis said he made the change in order to recognize the “precious contribution” Catholic women make to the Catholic community.

While some have praised Pope Francis’s decision as a step in the right direction, some have taken issue with the papal decree that also seems to go out of its way to make a distinction between “ordained” ministries (like the priesthood and the diaconate) and other types of priesthoods that are open to both men and women.

It seems that Catholic equality activists are divided into two camps: those who believe that the decree will “open a door” towards women being ordained priests, and those who think the ordinance explicitly shuts down the possibility.

“This is the first codification of allowing women inside the sanctuary,” said historian Phyllis Zagano to AP News. “That’s a very big deal.” Zagano believes that the decree is a step towards female ordination because “you can’t be ordained as deacons unless you’re installed as lectors or acolytes [first].”

Critics are also saying that the ordinance is simply an empty gesture to appease Catholic women who want more leadership roles within the church.

“There is nothing new in the decree — it effectively recognizes the roles that many women have been doing for decades, only now they will be controlled by a bishop,” Lucetta Scaraffia, former editor of the Vatican’s women magazine “Donne”, said to “The New York Times”.

“It seems as though the pope is conceding something to women, but it is something that they’ve had for decades, while denying what they have requested, the diaconate,” she continued.

Indeed, the act of allowing women to read from the bible during mass is already widely practice in Catholic Churches across the world.

When Pope Francis amended the Canon Law to “officially” allow it, he was simply adding greater legitimacy to a practice that was already in place in many ministries across the developed world.

The Argentinian pope explained his decision in a letter, saying that the newly-formally ordained practice would “allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood.”

But what “womanhood” is remains up to interpretation. And it definitely isn’t the same as what was when the Roman Catholic Church was first established in 313 A.D.

It is also worth noting that some religious historians believe that women held leadership roles like deacon (ordained minister) in the early history of the Catholic Church.

In fact, since he’s been in office, Pope Francis has created two separate commissions to further investigate the role of women during the early Catholic Church. If it is found that women were, indeed, sometimes ordained as deacons, that fact could give a precedence to women becoming ordained ministers in the current era.

But until then, Pope Francis has made it clear that he has no plans to change canon law to include women in the priesthood or diaconate.

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