Many students on campus will always remember what they were doing when Pope John Paul II died. Kelly Foyle had such a moment at the Renaissance festival when she found out that Pope John Paul II passed away.
She was at the festival with others from USF’s Catholic Student Union when someone in the group got a phone call informing them that the pope had passed.
“You knew it was coming. It was expected,” said Foyle, a freshman double majoring in psychology and sociology “But when you hear that or see it on the news, it’s like a sinking feeling.”
The death of the pope was significant for some students, but they also felt they did not have an attachment to him due to being young and coming of age during the late stages of his papacy.
“It was a devastating thing,” said Fabiola Compas, a senior majoring in business management. “Our generation, we know him as more of the older guy. We really didn’t get to see — or grow up seeing — the stuff he did.”
“I went to a Catholic school until I came to college,” Foyle said, “but they never put that much emphasis on the pope. We never took the time to talk about what he did, which I kind of regret now because I would have liked to know more about what he did. He did so much for not just Catholics, but everyone.”
This generation of college students might be too young to fully appreciate what the pope accomplished during his papacy.
“I personally don’t think I got to see (the pope’s legacy),” Compas said. “I just got to hear (of it) through my parents and good friends of mine at church.”
Robin Acks, president of the CSU and a senior majoring in education, was able to see the pope on giant television screens at World Youth Day in 1993.
“He’s such a central figure in our faith, and he was a pope for the youth,” Acks said. “I had the experience to see that and experience that.”
Acks also felt the pope tried to live his life like Christ.
“He forgave the man who shot him,” Acks said. “That’s pretty extraordinary.”
Compas could see this in Pope John Paul II as well.
“The pope was really doing God’s work,” Compas said. “Not too many of us in our daily lives do exactly what he devoted himself to, which is pretty much a lot of the stuff that the Bible says.”
Other students believe that his impact extended beyond the reach of the Catholic church.
As much as this pope reached out to all of humanity during his career as pontiff, students believe that the youth needs to be a more integral part of the church.
“We’re not just the future of the church, we’re also the present of the church,” Foyle said.
Many see the issue of young Catholics disconnected from the church as something that needs to be dealt with.
“I don’t see too many of my friends going to church going back to church like they used to be,” said Compas.
Many could hope that when the new pope is elected, he will be a pope for the youth, just as they felt Pope John Paul II was.
“Hopefully it will be someone young geared towards the youth,” Acks said. “Of course, the young adults would be nice also. They’re probably the most forgotten in the church. If we want the church to go somewhere, they need to be involved. You go off to college, and there’s not so much. There’s no emphasis to have young people go or to have young married people go.”
“The Catholic church needs to convince youth why you should be a Catholic,” said Thomas Krizek, an adjunct professor at USF teaching Roman Catholicism. “In America, there are issues of sexuality and the role of women in the church. Those issues need to be addressed.”
Though many believe changes need to be put into effect during the next papacy, these changes must not alienate those who have been Catholics their whole lives.
“He’s also going to have to keep a hold of the people that he’s got now,” said Foyle of the next pope. “I don’t think the new pope is going to want to be too radical in any changes, because people are set in their ways. If everything gets changed, that might disrupt all that they’ve known in their religion.”