Mass appeal: Area residents heading to see Pope Francis
There will be familiar faces in the crowd.
Thousands of people are expected to gather on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol building Thursday morning, as Pope Francis makes an historic address indoors before a joint session of Congress. Among those makig the modern-day pilgrimage are area constituents whose names were drawn in recent lawmaker lotteries designed to give away tickets to listen to the comments, the first papal address ever delivered to the nation's top legislative body.
Visitors to the lawn also are likely to catch a glimpse of the popular pontiff, who is expected to make an appearance on the grounds after his 9 a.m. address.
Members of the Restrepo family – Carlos Restrepo and his wife, Nelly Bravo-Restrepo, and their daughters, Elizabeth and Sofia Restrepo – say they are looking forward to the visit. Carlos Restrepo said this week that the Woodridge residents will be heading out of town Wednesday morning and plan to return Thursday after the pope's appearance.
The couple's daughters are looking forward to the experience, their dad said Monday. Elizabeth, 17, who attends Downers Grove South High School, was a student at St. Scholastica School in Woodridge, he said, and 9-year-old Sofia is a third-grader there now.
The devoutly Catholic family was surprised, he said, to be among the winning entrants in the lottery sponsored by U.S Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville. They have visited the Capitol before, Carlos Restrepo, 49, said, but they're all very excited about the adventure.
"It's a very unique place. It's nice to be able to be there and spend some time," he said.
Debbie Olsen, who lives in Plainfield, also was pleasantly surprised when she heard on Sept. 11 that her name was among those drawn in the lottery for 14th Congressional District residents, hosted by Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield. Traveling with her son-in-law's mother, Jeanne Kovanda, Olsen said she'll leave Wednesday morning and plans to stay through Friday, to take in some sights.
Both women will be visiting Washington for the first time in a while, she said.
"Randy Hultgren's office will give us a tour of the Capitol building, which neither of us have seen in many years," said Olsen, 62, who also plans to visit President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home, where historians say Abraham Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Those on Capitol Hill Thursday morning also will include Brother James Gaffney, FSC, president of Lewis University in Romeoville.
Invited by Foster, Gaffney will be one of 535 guests with seats inside the chamber for the extraordinary event. Hultgren's office had not released the name of his selected guest as of Tuesday afternoon.
Gaffney, 73, also has been to the capitol before, as recently as a mid-September conference on interfaith cooperation, he said. And he has crossed paths with a previous pontiff there as well. The top administrator at Lewis for the past 28 years, Gaffney joined a group of presidents of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. who met with Pope Benedict XVI at Catholic University of America in April 2008.
On this trip, he is looking forward to seeing the man who has become known for his popular appeal, and hearing his message.
Gaffney said he'll be listening for how Pope Francis articulates his challenges and affirmations in "a very politically charged environment," addressing issues that include environmental stewardship, the health of the economy and how to ensure that society's most-marginalized citizens are not left behind.
"There's something about him that has really caught the imagination and brought people together to talk seriously about issues that they're concerned about, in the context of faith and morals," Gaffney said, adding that the pontiff might shed light by example on how those conversations can be most fruitful. "How does he address the political arena in a way that brings people together and not divide them (and) how do I bring that back to campus?"
Gaffney was optimistic that the pope's words will continue to resonate widely.
"People have watched as he brings this message in joy and vision and faith," he said. "He's speaking in ways that very few public people do, in a way that calls the spirit and encourages us to do our best."