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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — As Pope Francis became the first pontiff ever to address the U.S. Congress, Briar Cliff University students and faculty members who watched on a big screen at Meis Recital Hall on Thursday absorbed his message of caring.
Some students were granted extra credit if they attended, but some came of their own accord, said assistant professor of theology Paul Korchin.
“It was cool to hear how he cared about everybody. Whether it was government-related or not, it was about caring for people and people who are suffering."
— Erich Erdmann, '19
Briar Cliff, a Catholic university, is grounded in Franciscan teachings. Those tenets stem from St. Francis of Assisi, who inspired Pope Francis, said Korchin. Many Franciscan teachings include caring for the creation God gave to humanity, he added.
Extra credit or not, the viewing party was intended to educate students on school values, said Sister Janet May, director of campus ministry at Briar Cliff.
“The whole purpose was to help students meet this man who I think is embodying the Franciscan values that we talk about here,” May said.
Freshman and theology major Katelyn Reidel didn’t need extra credit as motivation to attend. A chance to hear the pope speak, even if it was a livestream and not in person, was all it took.
She said his love for people of all socioeconomic levels made an impression.
“I think he really keys in on the social issues like protecting the less fortunate and trying to create an economy and a system that supports everyone in their struggles,” Reidel, 18, said.
But she won’t be satisfied watching the leader of the Catholic Church on screen forever.
“I definitely want to go to Rome at some point,” she said.
Not all in attendance were Catholic. Erich Erdman, 18, a freshman, is Baptist. Until recently, he hadn't paid much attention to what Francis said.
“But coming to a Catholic college, I kind of started to get interested,” Erdman said.
Although he admitted he attended the watch party for the extra credit, he left encouraged by the pope's message to Congress.
“It was cool to hear how he cared about everybody. Whether it was government-related or not, it was about caring for people and people who are suffering,” Erdman said.