October 2, 2015

Local Catholics witness history as Pope Francis talks to Congress

Maria Pimentel-Gannon  and her husband Jack Gannon stand in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall next to a statue of St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis on Sept. 23 in Washington.  Maria attended Pope Francis’ address to Congress on Sept. 24. (Submitted photo)

Maria Pimentel-Gannon and her husband Jack Gannon stand in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall next to a statue of St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis on Sept. 23 in Washington. Maria attended Pope Francis’ address to Congress on Sept. 24. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The unrestrained joy—and the tears—still flowed from Maria Pimentel-Gannon hours after she experienced the rare, close-up opportunity to witness history as Pope Francis delivered his address to the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24.

“It was an unbelievable experience. My heart pounded, and I started to cry when he was introduced. He walked in ever so humbly, and the tears started to roll for me,” said Pimentel-Gannon, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, as her tears came again. “That moment will be forever embedded in my mind.”

That experience will also be a lasting memory for Fred Klipsch, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“It was very uplifting,” Klipsch said. “As a Catholic, to have the opportunity to be in the same room as the pope and hear his comments was special. And at a time that’s difficult for the world, it was humbling to hear his thoughts. He spoke to the needs of all people and at all stages of life.”

Klipsch and Pimentel-Gannon counted their blessings that they were among the select audience to hear, in person, Pope Francis’ historic talk—the first time that a pope has addressed the U.S. Congress.

Each member of the U.S. Senate and House received one extra ticket to give to someone to attend the pope’s address. Klipsch received his ticket from Rep. Luke Messer of Shelbyville, while Pimentel-Gannon was given hers by Rep. Susan Brooks of Indianapolis, also a member of St. Monica Parish.

They both sat in the second-level guest area of the House chambers as Pope Francis called for congressional leaders to end capital punishment, accept immigrants and refugees, and pursue “a culture of care” for people and the environment.

One part of the pope’s talk that especially connected with Pimentel-Gannon was his reference to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

“Let us treat each other with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated,” the pope said. “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.

“In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

His emphasis on “welcoming the stranger”—the immigrants and refugees—also resonated with Pimentel-Gannon, an immigrant from Mexico who has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to help Hispanic immigrants move closer to God in their faith.

“To hear him speak for the whole immigrant population, to be about peace, to be about love, to be about family, I just sat there and cried,” she said. “It moved me to tears as God was talking to all of us through this godly man.”

Of the numerous standing ovations that Pope Francis received during his speech, the two that lasted the longest occurred when he talked about the sanctity of life and later about the importance of the family in American history and society.

The pope received a standing ovation from many in the audience after he declared, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

An even larger percentage of the audience rose to its feet moments later when he noted, “How essential the family has been to the building of this country!”

That focus on family was one of the areas of the pope’s address that struck Klipsch, who has been a leading advocate of quality education in Indiana and giving families the right to choose where they can send their children to school.

“The pope emphasized that the family members who are the most vulnerable are the young. Clearly, a quality education in our world today is vital,” noted Klipsch, chairman of Hoosiers for Quality Education.

Hours later, the impact of the pope’s message left Pimentel-Gannon “excited and renewed.” It also made her hope that Pope Francis’ vision for the world and the Church will be realized.

“The pope said a lot of things I’ve been thinking—the need for renewed faith, the emphasis on family, the welcoming of strangers,” she said. “If people really hear that message, I think we’ll have the Church we need.

“The Church we need is a Church that looks at working with the Lord, and having a relationship with the Lord. We have to look beyond ourselves and see how we can embrace the world by living Christ-like values, and sharing our faith with all God’s people.”

(For more coverage of the archdiocesan pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, including photo galleries and links to blog posts, visit www.archindy.org/wmof.)

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