WASHINGTON – The frenzy surrounding Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States comes with an extra dose of excitement for one Washington native.
John Winslow, a recent Gonzaga University graduate, received Sen. Patty Murray’s one and only invitation to watch the pontiff address Congress on Thursday.
Originally from Issaquah, Winslow, 23, is in Washington, D.C., to work for an advocacy organization while strictly adhering to a minimalist lifestyle as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
After Winslow and the five people he shares a home with were profiled by the Washington Post, Murray and her chief of staff extended the offer last Wednesday.
“It’s a really surreal experience more than anything else,” said Winslow, who is Catholic. “It’s hard to put into words. It means an awful lot to me, on a lot of different levels.”
His shock extends far beyond the invitation.
Since moving from one coast to another last month, Winslow has shared a house with five people who are in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps but work at different organizations. Their belongings are now shared, personal space is limited and the housemates, who never before had met, now can’t get away from each other.
They even share a joint bank account with just enough income to collectively cover rent and groceries.
“There’s no longer a ‘me’ making decisions – there’s a ‘we,’ ” Winslow said. “It’s harder than I thought it would be, but also more rewarding.”
Instead of starting law school, Winslow said he devoted himself to this year of service and personal growth. He works with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which advocates for the end of life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.
“It’s such a perfect introduction,” he said of his work. “I would love to become an advocate of some kind for underrepresented populations.”
At 17, Winslow committed to Catholicism. He chose Francis as his confirmation name, after Francis of Assisi.
“That was very much a deliberate choice I made,” he said, adding he was excited when the pope chose the name as well.
Winslow hopes the pope will address key topics, such as care for the environment and stewardship. Hunger and homelessness are top concerns, but the country also cannot afford to wait longer to face climate change, he added.
“Pope Francis has a lot to say that the leadership of our country needs to hear,” he said. “I know that what he’s going to say is going to challenge them, and challenge them in the way they ought to be challenged.”
The invitation from Murray came as total surprise, Winslow said.
“Both of our fathers are military, and we both grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school, so there’s a lot in common we have,” he said of Murray.
The two have never met, but they will have an opportunity to chat after the address.
“John embodies so much of what’s good in our state and our society, and his compassion for others is truly inspiring,” Murray said Wednesday in a statement. “When I heard his story, it was clear to me that he would make a wonderful ambassador for Washington state.”
For Winslow, the message the pope shares ties in with what he does on a daily basis and why he is spending a year in what he calls a “humbling experience.”
“What’s the next step?” he asked about Christian faith. “You have to live it, too. That’s really what Pope Francis has been saying this whole time, and that’s exactly why I’m here.”