People of Galveston-Houston eagerly await visit by Pope Francis

September 22, 2015

HOUSTON — The anticipation is staggering. The preparation is substantial. And the selfies will surely be coming in full force. Pope Francis' visit to the United States is here. 

From Sept. 22 - 27, all eyes will be on the Northeast when the pope visits Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. Since this is the pontiff's first visit to the United States, all efforts are making sure the country is doing its best to roll out the red carpet for this historic occasion.

Five people, which is just a glimpse into the dozens of groups traveling to see the pope, shared their excited leading up to their own journeys to see Pope Francis. All five will be visiting Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, each attending the culmination of the apostolic visit: the Mass for the conclusion of the WMOF on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. In preparation for this journey of a lifetime, each person has been reading and studying the preparatory catechesis, offered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family, titled, "Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive." 

Read the stories of brothers and sisters who will be going to this pivotal event for the country and for families across the nation. 

Sacred Heart - Conroe family heads to the World Meeting of Families
Christopher Nolin, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, decided to attend the WMOF in Philadelphia to strengthen his family and share the experience with others like his from around the world. 

"Once we heard about the opportunity to bring our family to a worldwide meeting on the family, we knew this was something we wanted to be a part of," Nolin said. "Our greatest challenge was finding a way to get six people to Philadelphia on a budget. We immediately began to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance on how we could make this a reality. Within a matter of months the Lord presented a plan to us with travel options more affordable than we could have ever imagined. We knew at that point it was God's will for us to attend."

Nolin and his wife will attend the World Meeting of Families Congress, while their four children will attend the Youth Congress, he said. They also plan on visiting some of the major religious sites in Philadelphia, like the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Splendors of the Vatican exhibit on display during the week. In addition, the family of six will attend the Pope's speech at Independence Hall on immigration and religious freedom, and the Festival of Families, culminating with the Papal Mass. 

Nolin said they're looking forward to meeting others from around the world who seek to build strong Catholic families and raise children courageous to live the Gospel. 

"With all of today's distractions, we feel it is even more critical to equip our family with tools like this to help keep our eyes focused on the Lord," he said. "We feel the same is true for our children to experience this support and spend time with others their own age who love Christ like they do. It is also important for them to know that we belong to a greater family as members of the Body of Christ that extends beyond the borders of our own home."

The married couple tried to attend a Papal Audience and Mass in 2005, but when St. John Paul II became ill, they missed their chance, so Philadelphia will be their first encounter with a pontiff.

Nolin said Pope Francis couldn't come to the U.S. at a better time.

"It is important that we, the citizens of America, listen with open hearts to hear what the Pope's message is from someone who has no interest in a political party, but who's only interest is in saving souls," he said. "Let us all pray for Pope Francis that he has a safe journey to America and that all can listen to his words of wisdom with an open heart." 

Archdiocesan staff going to Philadelphia excited for pontiff's message, journey
Elsa Aguilera, associate director of Family Life Transitions in the Archdiocese, said she will be attending WMOF with co-workers and her mom.
She said attending this event was important because "We're part of the Family Life Ministry in our Archdiocese and the topics are very crucial for us on how to serve our parishes. We look forward to receiving resources so we can do this even better."

Aguilera said she will be there on Saturday and Sunday, so she plans to attend the Festival of Families, which Pope Francis will be attending. She will also attend the Mass at 4 p.m. 

"Being in Family Life, I will be with the National Association for Catholic Life Ministers," she said. "We'll have gatherings with talks on marriage, attending conferences and cover topics that are important for family life. We hope to get group passes to Pope Francis' private audience, but we're still trying to figure that out. I hope we get to attend!"

Aguilera said she's already planning for the Year of Mercy in December. Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church's "mission to be a witness of mercy."

"There are many difficulties in families and I want to bring new ways of healing and be creative in how I help the families," she said. "We had a Day of Prayer previously and I hope it will be an annual one. That's just one way of continuing this healing ministry."

Deacon Arturo Monterrubio, director of the Family Life Ministry in the Archdiocese, said he will be attending WMOF with his wife.

"... an invitation was sent to many priests and deacons around the U.S. to serve during the Mass on Sunday (with Pope Francis). I sent in my information and was accepted!" he said. "I will be serving Holy Communion during the Mass. What an opportunity!"

Deacon Monterrubio said they visited Milan when Pope Benedict XVI visited in the past.

"We had a really wonderful experience," he said. "There was dancing in the streets and festivals — it was so beautiful to sit and listen to a cardinal or a priest in that environment. Everyone is very approachable and open. It's something very unique. The energy you feel and the willingness to participate and learn is apparent. I think it will be the same in Philadelphia as we learn about strengthening our families."
The Office of Family Life Ministry has been working through the preparatory catechesis ‘Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive' to prepare for the event.

"For the 10 chapters, each of our groups reads one chapter each month," Deacon Monterrubio said. "We invited the community to discuss chapters to also prepare for the World Meeting of Families. Afterward, we each plan to do a PowerPoint presentation about our experience and share it with the parishes. We hope individual parishes document their experiences too to share with others." 

Houston Jesuit students excited for special papal encounter
Strake Jesuit College Preparatory Senior Luke Dorman, was selected, alongside five other students, to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Also attending WMOF, is Nicholas Vivanco, a senior at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston. Both Dorman and Vivanco will be joined by 11 other Houston Jesuit students and faculty. 

These students of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston will be participating in a program called "To Philly for Francis: Ignatian Pilgrims on the Journey." St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia is hosting students from more than 40 Jesuit high schools across the U.S. as they make their pilgrimage to Philadelphia to take part in the festivities. The students will spend two days with their peers from Jesuit schools, praying and hearing speakers in preparation for the Pope's visit. They will also attend two events with the Holy Father, his evening audience with families and Mass in Philadelphia. 

And while most other schools had students write an essay on why they'd like to attend, Dorman and the other five Strake Jesuit students were hand-picked by Brendan Love, the school's retreat and liturgy coordinator. He learned that he was chosen while in a school leadership training meeting earlier this summer. 

Dorman's looking forward to the breakout sessions and speakers, mostly because he "really wants to meet some other Jesuit students. That will be awesome," he said. While he's not sure what he's going to do to if he meets the pope, he thinks he might be "super excited" or just in awe.
Vivanco was thrilled when theology teacher Justin Aquila gave him the good news that he'd be going to Philadelphia. 

"Ever since Pope Francis was elected, it's been my dream to see him at any cost however I could," the Cristo Rey Jesuit student said. "What he's done in the world and the certain topics he's taking on — I cannot describe how excited I am." When his family found out, Vivanco said they wanted to throw a party.

Dorman's family was also very excited for his trip to Philadelphia. "When I first told them about the trip, they were very excited," he said. "My parents were a little nervous about the cost, but when I explained how big this opportunity is, they were really excited for me and did everything they could." 

Vivanco finds Pope Francis' effort to visit the U.S. an important message. 

"Instead of him being centralized in Rome, he's coming to us," Vivanco said. "He wants to show us how we as a country, with him, can better ourselves. He's saying, ‘Here I am. Here is what I have to say.' It is up to us to listen and accept it with generosity. I can't imagine what a great story this will be when I am able to say that I did this."

The group of Cristo Rey Jesuit students have been preparing for the trip by reading "Love Is Our Mission."

"It's a great book about family and unity," Vivanco said. "We've been meeting every week since April to prepare ourselves spiritually for the conference. Also, for our other friends who wish they could've gone, we said, ‘Don't worry about it. We can bring prayers for you.' We have many prayer intentions for our friends and family and have been praying over them so that we will be able to offer up all these intentions during Mass on Sunday."

Dorman sees it as "a way to deepen my faith and get a better understanding of Catholic faith and the family."

"I know two guys going on the trip, but I'm really looking forward to getting to know everyone else and meeting new people," said Dorman. "I want to talk to them about their schools and share stories about us with them."

Vivanco is also looking forward to using the trip as part of his vocation discernment. "This whole experience is a big part of my discernment process," he said. "With the pope being a Jesuit, he's been talking a lot about the discernment process. I want to watch him and see how he acts with point of view to commit myself fully to this life."

For the Houston Jesuit students, follow their journey on Twitter: @2philly4Francis or #2Philly4Francis #2P4F; Find them on Facebook at; and follow them on instagram: @2philly4Francis. Prayer intentions can also be sent to to the the Cristo Rey group to by emailing 

For more information about Pope Francis' visit and his schedule, see page 2 or visit Also on page 2, learn about ways to follow the papal visit via social media.

Co-Cathedral to host Francis Festival of Families

HOUSTON — The public is invited to participate in the “Francis Festival of Families” Friday, Sept. 25, to Sunday, Sept. 27 at the Co-Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto St. in downtown Houston. 

The event will offer family-friendly hands-on activities and service projects to coincide with the events being offered in Philadelphia. Other activities include a Family Film Festival in Cameron Hall, which will show the movies “The Mighty Macs,” “Diary of a City Priest” and “Brother Moon, Sister Sun.” 

The event will also host a table discussion pertaining to the struggles and experiences of families today and “Virtual Philadelphia,” which offers an opportunity to view the Pope’s visit to the Festival of Families in Philadelphia. Community Service projects are also available.

For more information, visit or call 713-659-1561.