Loyola Marymount University

12/11/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/11/2023 17:09

Campus Ministry Director Has “Encounter of a Lifetime”

Life sometimes brings exquisite moments when official duties yield instances of deeply personal meaning.

Director of Campus Ministry Marissa Papula was representing Loyola Marymount University at a Vatican conference on pastoral care at universities in November when she had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

"It was the encounter of a lifetime," said Papula. "Folks have been doing this work for decades longer than me but haven't had the opportunity to have this encounter. To meet him, to hear from him, to touch the warmth of his hand, and thank him for everything he's done for the Church - it was the encounter of a lifetime."

Papula, who joined LMU in August 2023 after five years directing the award-winning Boston College Kairos retreat program, was in Vatican City for the Nov. 23-24, 2023, conference "Towards a Polyhedric Vision," for which the Vatican had sent invitations to Catholic university presidents across the globe. "It was the only legitimate excuse I could give to my family to not show up on Thanksgiving," joked Papula.

The 200 participants from 44 countries took part in the conference, presented by the Dicastery for Culture and Education, which oversees culture and education, attended Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, and heard a papal address. Pope Francis also met all the attendees.

"The gathering was galvanizing," wrote Papula in a LinkedIn post, "and if my observations were accurate, Rosie Shawver, M.Div., and I were the only two American laywomen at this inaugural gathering."

Papula said that the first day concluded with conversations in language-specific groups. She was moved by the reflections of colleagues from Cameroon, India, Canada, Belgium, and the U.K. on the graces and challenges of their shared work. The second day began with morning Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, and an audience with Pope Francis, who embodied patience and grace. In his address, he encouraged the participants to "appreciate differences … accompany with care … act courageously."

Papula observed that in the decade Francis has been pontiff, he has embodied the pastoral care that he was advising to the university representatives. "He has been remarkable," she said. "Francis' person-centered approach is like what Jesus engaged in his own pedagogy, and I was able to bear witness to that in my own encounter with him."