The Catholic University of America

April 16, 2008

Thousands on CUA Campus Greet the Pope

Thousands of alumni, students and staff from The Catholic University of America gathered on the CUA campus to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, April 16, cheering as the pontiff arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On the grassy CUA Mall across from the National Shrine, children cartwheeled in front of banners welcoming the pope, families spread blankets in the sun, and parishioners - young and old, some in strollers, some in wheelchairs - gathered on the lawn.

Alumni came from as far as California, making the 3,000-mile trip in order to glimpse the Holy Father for a minute or two as he arrived at the National Shrine in the popemobile and walked up the shrine's red-carpeted steps.

David Whalen, a 2000 graduate of CUA's Columbus School of Law, traveled from San Diego. "I have been reading him since my reversion to the Catholic faith in 1991," he said, adding that he has read 15 to 20 of Pope Benedict XVI's books and considers him to be his favorite author.

"I was in Rome on the day he became pope, and was praying that he would be elected pope. I have been a few yards from Pope Benedict when he was a cardinal and I'm sure I could be physically closer to him by visiting Rome than here in D.C. However, to see and greet him as he comes to our country and to my alma mater is a great pleasure."

"John Paul II drew people because of the attractiveness of his personality, but people are drawn to Benedict XVI because of his mind," he says, praising the open-mindedness of the pope and his deep understanding of the modern world and contemporary thinking.

Anne Garcia, of Winter Springs, Fla., brought her 18-year-old son, Grant, for the event, her first visit to campus since she graduated from Catholic University with a master's degree in psychology in 1982. "I feel that we're on a pilgrimage," she says.

Emory and Katie Ellis, 1991 graduates of CUA, brought their four children from Ashburn, Va., to see the Holy Father. "I was 10 years old when Pope John Paul II came to Catholic University in 1979," Emory Ellis said. "My father brought me to campus to see him, and that made a big influence on me. I wanted my kids to have that same experience and perhaps receive a special blessing."

Bernadette Di Rita, a 2006 CUA graduate, gathered on the lawn with her parents, who made the trip from West Chester, Pa. "It's pretty exciting that the pope selected CUA to visit," she said, adding it made her proud of the university.

She had also seen the Holy Father earlier in the day at the White House and had joined with the crowd singing an impromptu "Happy Birthday," since today is the pontiff's 81st birthday. "The pope was really lively and laughing and waving," she said. "It was inspiring to see everyone excited about him."

On Tuesday night about 75 CUA students gathered at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center to make posters for the pope's visit to Catholic University on Thursday, April 17.

On Thursday, the pope will say Mass at Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park in the morning. Later he will give a speech on Catholic education at the Pryzbyla Center. The audience of about 650 will include the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities and diocesan heads of education from across the country.

His talk will be streamed live on the CUA Web site,

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in CUA's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.