WASHINGTON - In preparation of Pope Francis’ arrival to Washington, D.C., student-athletes of The Catholic University of America participated in a campus-wide service campaign, “Serve with Francis Day”, this past Sunday, Sept. 13. The event gave CUA students, faculty, and alumni the opportunity to pray, act, and serve as Pope Francis asks us to do.
The day of service was part of the Office of Campus Ministry’s programming tied to Pope Francis’s Sept. 23 visit to the University’s campus. Under the theme “Walk with Francis: Joy of the Gospel,” Campus Ministry invites members of the CUA community to “Walk with Francis” through events related to prayer, learning, and service. The events are tied to the Archdiocese of Washington’s #WalkwithFrancis initiative, which encourages D.C.-area residents to take a pledge to follow the example of Pope Francis by serving in their community however they can.
“It was undoubtedly a cool experience, participating in the ‘Serve with Francis Day’,” said baseball senior Eric Scamardella. “Getting a chance to give back to the community is always an opportunity that we take on with pride, knowing that we are making a difference. In this case, doing it in preparation for the Pope’s visit alongside my teammates made it a special experience.”
Pope Francis’ initiative calls us to be builders of the world through engagement with all walks of life. The service day allowed CUA to follow in the Pope’s message right here in the D.C. and Brookland communities.
“We love giving back to the community and doing it as a team, in my opinion, makes it more enjoyable. It's actually a bonding experience as well,” said men’s tennis junior Jon Purowitz. “Sure we hang out, workout, or watch games every now and then, but that doesn't compare to actually doing something beneficial for others off the court as a group.”
The CUA men’s basketball, baseball, and tennis teams came together, serving at the Constitution Gardens near the National Mall for the day. The student-athletes were responsible for cleaning up algae that had accumulated in the garden’s central pond, ensuring that the fish and other organisms can survive the seasonal weather.
During their afternoon at the Constitution Gardens, some of the student-athletes were given waders to walk out into the man-made pond. They spent time dragging the algae off the bottom of the pond for others to help remove.
“We all had a great time during our service project and thought it was amusing to see some of our teammates wear wet suits while they went in the pond to clean the algae,” said men’s basketball senior Kevin Phanord. “One of our freshman teammates actually caught a couple of small fish when he was raking in a large chunk of algae.”
Along with clearing the pond the group encountered veterans visiting the WWII Memorial. The men put their day on pause to honor the vets and thank them for their service to their country.
The Catholic men’s soccer, cross country, and track & field teams traveled across town to the Rock Creek Park Conservancy. The teams worked together to help clean the park by cutting down loose tree limbs, trimming vines, and raking weeds that were harming the indigenous plants.
“Doing community service with my teammates was a way for our team to give back to the community that we are happy to call home,” said men’s soccer senior Connor Keale.
Just north of campus, the CUA swimming & diving team ventured to Hyattsville, Md., with a large group of students.
“The ‘Serve with Francis Day’ was instrumental in our team bonding experience,” said women’s swim team senior Nicole Castellano. “Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of listening to and getting to know others to better understand the world we live in.”
The team was divided into three groups to help spruce up park trails that see lots of foot traffic from metro users. One group was primarily devoted to picking up trash along the trails and in the woods while another painted over graffiti. The final group was sent out with kayaks to remove trash from the river.
“I feel by serving as one team, my teammates and I are able to get a sense of one another outside of the pool,” explained Castellano. “Working together in and out of the pool allows us to see the impact our team can have and helps us grow as a team.”
Catholic’s softball and women’s lacrosse teams spent the afternoon at Kenilworth Park in Southeast, D.C., near the Anacostia River. They helped to clean up trash from the water and surrounding areas of a creek feeding into the Anacostia, along with other areas of the park.
“I had an awesome experience serving with my team and it felt more rewarding because Pope Francis is visiting,” said women’s lacrosse junior Laura Dunn. “One of the Pope's important messages is to protect and respect nature, and our teams were able to put his teachings into action by cleaning up the Anacostia River.”
The women’s basketball, women’s cross country, and women’s track & field teams helped clean up the playground at the Schrilli School in Brookland. Though weeding and cleaning up garbage their efforts helped make the school property safe for all children attending.
“The experience made us realize how lucky we are the be part of the CUA community and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to ‘Walk with Francis’,” said women’s basketball senior Kristen Walheim.
The men’s lacrosse team, accompanied by President John H. Garvey, walked to the Franciscan Monastery on 14th Street, N.E. They helped on a not for profit farm that gives fresh produce to organizations that help feed the hungry. The group spent the day assisting with various gardening tasks such as weeding the rose bush gardens, clearing old corn stalks, and mowing the lawn.
“Our team and president Garvey had a pretty great time working on the farm,” said men’s lacrosse senior Coleman Walsh III. “It felt awesome being out there as a team doing service for the community before the papal visit. Doing the day of service was a terrific way to start our fall season.”
“Pope Francis teaches that we have the responsibility to take care of our environment and protect God's earth,” explained softball junior Tayler Falvey. “We, as a team, got to live out Pope Francis' mission in preparing for his visit to our campus. I think that is a very special thing.”