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SJU Students Represented Canada at Meeting with Pope Francis

SJU Students Represented Canada at Meeting with Pope Francis

Date: Thursday, February 24, 2022

St. Jerome’s University (SJU) students Claudia DeFazio and Brendan Whittle were two of three students representing Canada today at an online video conference with Pope Francis. The two joined the virtual dialogue with His Holiness, with fellow Canadian and University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto), PhD student Mia Theocharis. A total of 130 students from 58 universities, representing 21 countries participated in today’s event. The conversation, hosted by Loyola University Chicago, is part of a two-year Synodal Process that the Roman Catholic Church began in October 2021. It was an extension of a centuries old process of gathering for consultation, in this case with Catholic universities, before the Synod of Bishops from around the world comes together for discussion in 2023.

“The “Building Bridges” synodal encounter with the Pope was a remarkable event to behold,” stated SJU President and Vice Chancellor, Peter Meehan. “The organizer of the event, Dr. Michael Murphy, Director of the Hank Centre at Loyola University, told me that Francis jumped at the opportunity to engage with these university students from across the Americas.  Watching the event online, it was so obvious that he was energized by their questions and the dialogue that ensued.”

The focus of the conversation was on migration. The dialogue opened with His Holiness identifying that one of the most serious problems we face are people having to leave their land because of political, economic, or religious problems. University students have an important role in working on this serious problem he noted, to give hope and respond in an intelligent way, and with their hearts, and hands. He added that the vocation of priesthood is to build bridges.

“This was a hopeful encounter in which the students spoke passionately and authentically to their concerns for a host of issues – including migrants, undocumented Americans, climate change and poverty and other forms of marginalization, and in which they clearly drew hope and inspiration from the Pope’s vision, understanding and empathy. We need more such encounters to hear from the leaders of this generation, who are the future of the church, and the world!,” added Meehan.

Within the conversation were students from North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and representatives from student groups that included those “practicing” and “distant from the church”. Brendan Whittle, a Psychology and Business major, and current president of the SJU Students’ Union together with Claudia De Fazio, a University of Waterloo Management Engineering student and a don in SJU’s residence, both agree that it was an amazing experience that brought hope. De Fazio identified that creating these connections will also create actions.

“Today we got to watch as our group members presented our thoughts and ideas for a concrete plan of action to the Pope, alongside groups from all over central and South America as well as the United States,” noted De Fazio, “… to hear the Pope speak to our ideas really brought me hope for the whole Synodal processes going forward."

“I think it is the start of something,” stated Whittle. “I am thrilled with the Pope’s response that he wants to continue (the conversation). I also know that the bishops will be continuing this discussion in some form. I look forward to it."

Although optimistic that the conversations will continue, Whittle added that the process will require patience.

“Change takes time and you cannot do it all in one night,” stated Whittle. “Starting in universities is a good place. And then you can move municipally, and then provincially. People seem to move slowly…and I expect the same with the church.”

“We need one another. I need you and you need me,” Pope Francis shared in today’s event. It is clear that both His Holiness and the participants in today’s event understand that collaboration plays a critical role in the process of making change.


The recording of the “Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students” will be available on the Loyola University Chicago website.

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