Pope visits St. Joseph's University Sunday afternoon

Pope Francis made a surprise schedule change Sunday afternoon: He added a stop at St. Joseph's University: 

The pope arrived shortly before 3 p.m., on his way to the Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The impending visit came as a surprise to the university, though officials had been hearing there was a chance, said Joseph Lunardi, university spokesman.

The pope was to meet with campus officials, students and religious leaders and visit the university’s newly dedicated statue, "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time." About 700 to 800 people are gathered around the statue, waiting.

The bronze statue by Philadelphia artist Joshua Koffman just was dedicated on Friday at the plaza in front of the Chapel of St. Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that changed the relationshp between the Catholic and Jewish faiths, the university said.

The university, which enrolls 4,550 undergraduate students, founded the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations in 1967.

"Since his election, the Holy Father has inspired us in so many ways," said Mark C. Reed, who became the university’s first lay president this summer. "His ministry and leadership style have been a topic of discussion and an example in our classrooms. He has reenergized and strengthened our student body in their Catholic faith. And he has reminded all of us of the power of humility and compassion.

"To have him actually set foot on our campus will be unforgettable. This is a truly historic day for Saint Joseph's University, Jesuit education across the country and the importance of interfaith relations."

Those expected to visit with the pope in addition to Reed are student body president Nicholas Chingas, vice president Natalie Roche, Jesuit community rector Rev. Brendan Lally, S.J, and Edward W. Moneypenny '64, chair of the Board of Trustees. Philip A. Cunningham, professor of theology and Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires, a friend of Pope Francis, also are expected to be there, the university said.

St. Joseph’s University provided 435 volunteers for the World Meeting of Families event, the largest contingent of any area university. The university also is staffing the World Meeting of Families hotline for volunteers this weekend and is hosting about 150 students from other Jesuit colleges around the country. They are spending the night in the university gym, not far from the St. Charles Borremeo Seminary, where Pope Francis spent Saturday night.

Students and staff on campus lined City Avenue on Saturday and cheered as the pope passed. The pontiff essentially drove through the heart of campus, which is on both sides of the avenue.

Picture of the greatest picture I have ever taken. #FranciSJU #PopeInPhilly #sohappy #igers_philly #igers_philly_street

A photo posted by Sir Matt Hobbo (@matt_hobbo) on Sep 27, 2015 at 12:12pm PDT