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Penn alumnus and Jesuit priest Father James Martin spoke to students in the Hall of Flags about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Philadelphia.

Photo: Eunice Lim

Last night, Penn alumnus and Jesuit priest Father James Martin spoke to a packed audience in the Hall of Flags about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Philadelphia.

But not before opening with a ‘hymn’: “The Red and the Blue.”

Martin, who graduated from the Wharton School in 1982, is the author of multiple New York Times bestsellers, a regulator contributor to news publications and “the chaplain of the Colbert Nation,” as dubbed by Stephen Colbert, who frequently hosted him as a guest on The Colbert Report. Martin agreed to return to Penn to talk about the pope and his papacy when College senior Sean Foley reached out.

For an hour, Martin touched upon what Catholics and non-Catholics alike can look forward to in the pope’s visit and sermons. Martin says with confidence that the pope will talk about social justice and the poor, capitalism and income inequality, the environment, the refugee crisis and family life and love during his visit to the United States.

“The pope is going to make some difficult critiques, and a lot of people don’t want to hear them because they are mistaking critique for condemnation,” Martin said. “But he has critiqued rightly the failures of our current system. We live in a country with gross economic extremes. But he is critiquing in the spirit of charity. It’s a difficult thing to hear, but we will hear it.”

Martin also recommended the audience look and learn from the pope’s actions.

“The pope’s spontaneous gestures — like when he embraced that man with the disfigured face — teach something. They make more news than his speeches and homilies,” said Martin. “Jesus taught by word and by deed. And Pope Francis does the same.”

During the question and answer session that followed, Martin spoke a bit about his unconventional path from working in corporate finance at General Electric after graduating from Wharton to becoming a Jesuit priest.

“During undergrad, no one was asking me what I wanted to really do in life. And once I was in Wharton and later at GE, I could not envision any other type of life. I didn’t know how to get out,” Martin said. It was a documentary about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, and seeing a psychologist that helped him eventually realize that he wanted to live a religious life — specifically, to join the Jesuit order.

“I approached the process of joining like I was approaching a job opportunity at Goldman Sachs,” Martin said. “I applied in May, and I was in by August, which is unconventionally fast.”

Adult and student audience members swarmed Martin once the talk ended.

“It’s great to see people getting excited about the Catholic church,” said Newman Center Assistant Director Jeff Klein, who attended the event. And I hope that it’s more than just a celebrity effect and that it leads people to true engagement with faith and questions about truth.”

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