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Higgins invites Response to Love Center's Sister Johnice and Niagara University President Maher to DC for events with Pope Francis

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Mon, Sep 21st 2015 03:40 pm

Western New Yorkers also travel to U.S. Capital for the pope's address

Congressman Brian Higgins will be joined this week by Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz and the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., as he travels to Washington, D.C., for a visit by Pope Francis to the U.S.

"Pope Francis is leading the world's 1.2 billion Catholics with a message of service, acceptance, humility and love," Higgins said. "I welcome the pope's visit in Washington, and welcome Western New Yorkers engaging these same principles right here in our community."

Rzadkiewicz has served as executive director of the Response to Love Center, providing clothing, food, education, career services, comfort, community and spiritual guidance to residents on the East Side of Buffalo for 30 years. She credits an encounter with Mother Teresa as impetus for the center's creation. A Felician Franciscan nun for more than 50 years, Rzadkiewicz also served in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and at Ground Zero in 2001.

"The invitation to attend the joint session of Congress in the House Chamber, as guest of Congressman Brian Higgins, is a gift," she said. "As I attend this historic and special event, I will take in my heart, my family, the staff, volunteers and friends at Response to Love Center, the Felician Sisters and all of Western New York. I will pray for the blessing of Holy Father Francis to be with all of us. I pray that I may listen and reflect; upon returning, may the grace of God give me insight and courage to respond to the message that will be shared."

Maher serves as the 26th president of Niagara University, a 158-year-old Catholic institution dedicated to education and the Vincentian tradition of service to the poor and underserved. Under Maher's leadership, the university's staff and students are actively committed to serving the people and city of Niagara Falls through the Levesque Institute and programs such as ReNU Niagara. Maher previously served as the executive vice president of student services and mission, and he was the executive director of the Vincentian Institute for Social Action at St. John's University in New York City, where he organized a "Run Against Hunger."

"I am very grateful to Congressman Higgins for inviting me to accompany him to the White House for this historic event," Maher said. "I look forward to being in the presence of His Holiness, a remarkable Catholic leader who has inspired individuals of differing faiths to advance the common good through his visible model of service and humility. Pope Francis has articulated his deep desire to change the world by serving those in need, which is a mission shared by the members of our campus community at Niagara."

White House Visit:

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Maher will join Higgins at the White House as the president and first lady welcome the pope to Washington.

Canonization Mass:

Rzadkiewicz was selected to represent the Diocese of Buffalo at the Canonization mass of Padre Junipero Serra led by Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at The Catholic University of America at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. Maher and Higgins may attend, as well. This mass, the first canonization ever held in the U.S., will grant sainthood to Serra, a Franciscan friar who, during the 18th century, founded the missions in California.

Address to Congress:

Rzadkiewicz will be the guest of Higgins in the House Chamber as Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress at 10 a.m. Thursday. Maher will view the pope's address alongside the public on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building.

A number of Western New Yorkers who requested tickets through Higgins' office also will join the public viewing of the pope's address to Congress on the Capitol's west front. Many local residents attending the outdoor live broadcast of the pope's remarks are affiliated with Western New York churches, schools and service organizations, including: St. Gianne's Outreach Center, Gerard Place, Response to Love Center, Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Canisius College, Niagara University, Villa Maria College, 14 Holy Helpers Church and St. William's Parish in West Seneca, St. Timothy's in Tonawanda and Christ the King in Amherst.

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