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Pope Francis during his visit to Naples, Italy. Credit: Raffaele Esposito

It’s not Homecoming or Spring Fling, but Penn students will be out in droves for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

As of last week, 931 people are signed up with the Penn Newman Center to walk down together from St. Agatha-St. James Church at 38th and Chestnut streets to the papal mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. That number is expected to exceed 1,000 people well before the pope’s visit.

The attendees will have breakfast at the Newman Center in the morning before walking to Center City for the mass.

An additional 240 people are registered to volunteer at the World Meeting of Families through the Penn Catholic Students Association.

This high level of participation among Penn students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — is unprecedented for either the Newman Center or the PCSA.

“These people are coming out of the woodwork and want to be involved,” said Penn Newman Vice President and Wharton and College senior Andrea Muglia. “This is the first time a religious figure will captivate a secular research university. “

Muglia helps run the Penn for Pope Francis Facebook page, which distributes information about events during the weekend of his visit. She is thrilled by the amount of interest in the Pope’s visit, sparked in part from Penn announcing the suspension of classes on Friday, Sept. 25.

“When the school announced that they were canceling school on Friday, that was the biggest publicity we’ve gotten,” Muglia said.

Penn Newman will also host the acclaimed Jesuit author and 1982 Wharton graduate Father James Martin. He was invited by College senior and Penn Democrats President Sean Foley. Martin, a frequent guest on “The Colbert Report,” drew widespread attention after a Facebook post he made pleading Catholics to be more respectful and loving of LGBTQ people went viral. Martin will be speaking at Penn on Monday, Sept. 14.

Other events at the Newman Center include a “pope-fest” party on Friday, Sept. 25 in collaboration with Drexel University.

The PCSA, which coordinates volunteer efforts for the World Meeting of Families, has also been pleasantly surprised with the amount of volunteers registered for their event.

Penn was allotted 300 slots for volunteers. So far, 240 people have signed up, with many spots still open for any interested members of the Penn community.

“[The volunteers] don’t need to be Catholic. Actually, we would like people that aren’t Catholic,” said PCSA President and College junior Diana Orlandi.

Volunteers need to be at least 18 years old, and must have a Social Security number so they can undergo a background check.

The volunteers, who will be assisting with translation or crowd control, may have a better chance of seeing Pope Francis up close. He is expected to greet randomly selected volunteers after mass in a separate event, Orlandi said.

Though the event will draw attention from the Penn community for a weekend, student leaders hope that it may spark a continuing interest in Catholic belief.

“I’m hopeful there will be a shift on campus to be more open to Catholic intellectual tradition and moral teaching,” Muglia said.

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