Apr 5, 2014

Symposium encourages following in ‘The Footsteps of Francis’



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

CHICOPEE – A little more than one year after Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose the name Francis for his papacy, approximately 100 people gathered at Our Lady of the Elms College here April 5 for a day-long program entitled “The Footsteps of Francis.”

Presenters examined the life of St. Francis of Assisi and explored topics such as how the new pope has called people to be more like St. Francis and what influenced the Jesuit cardinal to choose to name himself after the founder of the Franciscan Order.

“I’m delighted that we’re here today,” said Sister of St. Joseph Paula Robillard, director of the Diocese of Springfield’s Office of Faith Formation.

“Our hope is that people will see the connection between St. Francis, the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis,” Sister Robillard told iobserve.

To help make those connections, three speakers made presentations; Bob Burnham, a secular Franciscan, Father Mark Stelzer, a faculty member at the Elms, and David O’Brien, who works at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and is also an author and Catholic speaker.

Father Stelzer’s presentation was entitled, “Francis: Building a Church of Joy and Mercy.” He told his audience how Pope Francis has been greatly influenced by Vatican II and how the council has informed his papacy.

O’Brien (pictured at left) urged his audience members to strive to be like St. Francis. “I think sometimes as Catholics, we put people on pedestals; we look at them as examples and models, but then we don’t know how to translate it into living it ourselves,” he said.

“I would hope that people (here) this afternoon will think ‘those are things I can do…so I can grow closer to Christ myself.’”

The symposium was held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Alumnae Library Theatre and was part of the Mary A. Dooley Lecture Series. The event was co-sponsored by Loyola Press and the Office of Faith Formation.

Each of the presenters spoke for about an hour, telling their audience about St. Francis, what has influenced Pope Francis and some of what the new pontiff has accomplished in his first year.

In the first session of the day, Burnham, spoke of “The Person of St. Francis,” relating stories from the life of the 12th century saint that have inspired people ever since.

“We had a full room,” Burnham told iobserve, “people were really hungry to know who this man was.” Burnham told his audience that St. Francis was “a poor man who gave up everything to follow Christ over eight centuries ago.” He said the well-known saint “still captures (peoples) imagination.”

Burnham said he hopes that his audience members understood from his talk that they should enjoy life, a message that has been communicated by both St. Francis and now, Pope Francis.

“I hope the message that they came away with is to be joyful,” he said. “Christians can’t be sour pusses. There’s so much to be joyful about.”

Sister Robillard concurred, saying that symposiums like these are affirming.

“It’s been a wonderful day. Our speakers have been magnificent, and we’re just looking forward to…going forward in the spirit of joy that Francis has called us all to be.”

For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.