Felician sister describes witnessing Pope Francis' address to Congressby Kimberlee Sabshin
Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, director of the Response to Love Center in Buffalo, was one of the invited guests of Congressman Brian Higgins at Pope Francis' address to the joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. After the address, Sister Johnice provided some thoughts on the experience of hearing Pope Francis.
"Being there in Congress was the most electrifying experience for me," Sister Johnice said. "Just seeing everyone there, the senators, the congressmen, the diplomats, the president - all were there. As I looked out, I prayed for unity and that if we would listen to the message of the Holy Father, we wouldn't leave the message there in the chamber, but take that message back home."
Sister Johnice said being at Congress was electrifying and inspiring. She noted during his address, Pope Francis called the United States the "land of the dream," and said America's leaders must lead with action and commitment. In keeping with this theme, Pope Francis told the chamber "not to be fearful of foreigners" because "once, we were foreigners," to a round of applause. The message was especially striking for Sister Johnice in her ministry.
"In our building, at Response to Love Center, we deal with nine different countries, and to embrace them with compassion and love and to make them a part of our family - it has really taught me to reflect as I'm going to go back home, to embrace them with that acceptance, love and compassion that the Holy Father spoke about so beautifully. He gave a beautiful message of peace," Sister Johnice said.
According to Sister Johnice, Pope Francis' message was given directly to politicians, but it was a call to treat everyone with dignity.
"I don't think the call is only to the politician," Sister Johnice said. "It's for the everyday person. It's our responsibility, and we need to respond lovingly."
Pope Francis also stressed that it is not only politicians who are called to give messages of peace, but average people who are called to serve as instruments of peace, hope, healing, peace and justice.
"We have to have passion and compassion, and to live the Golden Rule to do unto others what we would want others to do to us," Sister Johnice said highlighting a key part of the address. "That really struck me as well."
Sister Johnice was glad that Pope Francis emphasized preserving the dignity of life and called for the global abolition of the death penalty. He also stressed the importance of caring for the environment.
"We really need to emphasize the care of the earth," Sister Johnice said. "He talks about caring for the resources that we have been given: the trees, the water, the sunlight - all of this."
During her trip to Washington, D.C., Sister Johnice also represented the diocese in social ministry and was able to attend the canonization of St. Junipero Serra, the first canonization to take place in the United States. The Franciscan missionary is also the first Hispanic saint.
"That was another historical moment, besides being in Congress, but God is in all of these experiences, so God was present in all of this," Sister Johnice said. "I do believe that by my being in Washington these two days, I was called to action and called to share the message I heard and to live that message."