How Pope Francis challenged us in Philly: Looking back, one year later

"His message is timeless and still being heard. His example of leadership is an anchor to us all in these times of great strife."


It’s been a year since Pope Francis visited the United States. In the run-up to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia he was primarily coming here for, I had the joy of getting to know Lizanne Pando, then communications director for the World Meeting of Families. A native of Philadelphia and a cradle Catholic, she emanates love. Love for the Church. Love for the Blessed Mother. Love for her family. Love for everyone she encounters throughout the day, often asking her for prayers. Love Is Our Mission was, in fact, the theme of the event and papal visit, one that underscored why you want people of faith around: They are not just another non-governmental organization that does social service and advocacy, as Pope Francis often says. Christians serve because of love of God and man, made in His image.

On Tuesday night in Philadelphia, I’ll be moderating a discussion on how that visit could help us today, hitting on some of what Pope Francis said and some of the most painful challenges we are facing today. He reminded us who we were, if we were listening. We could afford to listen about now. The panel, which includes representatives from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the World Meeting of Families, Catholic Voices USA, and Catholics from the archdiocese, will be hosted by St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, where Pando now works as president. She looks back and ahead in an interview.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What do you remember best about the pope’s visit to Philadelphia?

Lizanne Pando: Primarily, the excitement and the colors! We had been planning for so long that when we finally got to go to the Convention Center, the whole city was awash in colorful banners welcoming the pope and posters and billboards all welcoming the world. Then when they came, each country brought its own flair of color and music and song. It was so beautiful and heart warming to hear groups of people walking through the convention center or streets singing in the faith!

Lopez: What was the most significant stop as far as you are concerned?

Pando: Philadelphia of course. Don’t get me wrong, Pope Francis’ stop in D.C. was amazing and his speech in Congress will never leave my heart. Nor will seeing him in N.Y. But he was always coming because of the World Meeting of Families. This was his message since he was made pope. Family is the Church. Love is our Mission. Love and family is the heart of our faith. So, his visit here in Philadelphia and speeches resonate still with me today in a unique way – he talked about home in my home. 

I love how he points us to work out our problems, not run from them, and keep families together, for ourselves, but also for our communities.

Lopez: The World Meeting of Families was an event unto itself that culminated in the papal visit. What lasting impact did it have? On Philadelphia? On the country?

Pando: I don’t believe that the U.S. had ever seen the world come together in our Catholic faith in such an intimate way. I saw total strangers praying the rosary together in the street. I saw students singing in the streets about Jesus and the pope. We had 15,000 attend daily Mass in the Convention Center and it was beautiful to hear prayers and songs from so many in all different languages, all saying the same thing.

Philadelphia is a city and area of great pride. We will never forget that we had this amazing conference and visit from Pope Francis. His message is timeless and still being heard. His example of leadership is an anchor to us all in these times of great strife.

Lopez: Why was the Catholic Voices USA involvement – which is how we first got to meet — important?

Pando: Catholic Voices USA helped us prepare to message our faith so that we could help others understand what we are about. Catholic traditions without explanation can be misunderstood, but many of us don’t know have to explain ourselves and our practices. Catholic Voices helped us step back and form our stories and feel more confident to tell these stories and traditions to the world and press. I feel this expanded the conversation that Pope Francis always encourages us to participate in.

Lopez: What make St. Hubert’s, where you work as president now, special?

Pando: St. Hubert’s was opened 75 years ago on September 8, 1942, with Mass and since then has seen more than 25,000 girls become women of faith and integrity. The tradition and legacy is one of great pride, joy and stability.

Through the changing times, St. Hubert’s was touted as a home of stellar education, in academics, spiritual strength and a strong sisterhood that has left many women with the best of foundations and friends they have ever had in their lives.

Today our graduated class accumulated 453 scholarships worth a total of more than $15 million dollars. We boast the only Archdiocesan school still to carry Home Economics and Sewing, an Art department that works directly with the Philadelphia Art Museum, a full orchestra and bell choir in addition to our many math, science and English accolades!



Lopez: Does America need to heed right about now anything of what the pope said?

Pando: America can have discussions without wars. We have had a lot of racial and terror conflict lately. We hope that these situations do not inflame, but help us to reach out and understand what problems we still have to work on. This is the greatest democratic country in the world, and when we heed Pope Francis, we can do even better.

Lopez: Can families be consoled and even strengthened by anything he said or did?

Pando: Families who heed Pope Francis’ message will become stronger together to make a better world. It truly is that simple. But it will take a lot of work.



Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author, with Austen Ivereigh, of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice.