By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — It was a pilgrimage months in the planning, but finally Sept. 23 arrived. Late that afternoon, 325 people from all over the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and further afield boarded six buses for the trip to Philadelphia. Pope Francis was to be in that city for the Festival of Families Sept. 26 and celebrate Mass Sept. 27.
They gathered in the Catholic Center for check-in, and awaited the buses — priests and religious sisters, families and individuals. There was an overlying feeling of prayerful excitement, voiced by Shannon Cassidy of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, “We’re ready to roll!”
Cassidy and her friend, Susan Lawrence of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Lee’s Summit, said that in the months since the pilgrimage was announced, they had downloaded all sorts of information about Pope Francis, and they hoped to get a glimpse of him.
Coronation of Our Lady (Grandview) parishioners Dominic and Allyson Schoenheer and their 20-month old daughter Cecilia waited patiently in line to check in. Allyson said the couple had “jumped on it when we heard we could take Cecilia with us!”
Dominic said they were “very excited to go. It promises to be a prayer-filled experience. We’re bringing lots of intentions from family and friends to pray for while we are there.”
Father Daniel Gill, Administrator of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Kansas City, commented that it looked to be an adventure, jostled by the crowds of people who would have traveled to Philadelphia to be there while Pope Francis was in the city. “Wherever the Pope is, it’ll be crowded,” he said. “But it was no easier for the crowds who followed Jesus.”
Mother Julia Kubista, Director of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord, Raytown, was looking forward to the 20-hour bus ride. “The people we will be with will be a delight!” she said. “We will offer up the hardship of travel for the success of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. We are blessed to do so.”
She added that she and the three Sisters accompanying her had crossed sightseeing off their list. “One of our Sisters is studying for her Master’s degree. We plan to use our free day (Sept. 25) for Holy Hour, study and prayer. This is a pilgrimage, a time for prayer.”
Father Charles Tobin spent a number of years in Bolivia working in the barrios during some of the same years the pope served in his homeland, Argentina. He considered Pope Francis’ visit to the United States to be “a tremendously historical moment. The Holy Spirit has given us this person to transform not just Catholics, but the whole world.”
Mary Sweat, a St. Therese Little Flower parishioner, was excited to go to the Conference on Families, even if she was stuck in the streets, and “I’m looking forward to seeing Pope Francis, even if it’s just on the big screen.”
Gabriel Guerra-York, whose 11th birthday would be celebrated the next day on the bus, was excited for two additional reasons: he was going to hang out with his big brother and maybe see the Holy Father. “I’m only 10 going on 11 so this is something I’ll never forget.”
The boys’ mother, Teresa Guerra-York, a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist), said, “This is a once in a lifetime experience we’ll share as a family.”
Msgr. Ralph Kaiser, pastor of The Church of the Santa Fe in Buckner, is the second oldest active priest in the diocese. He recalled concelebrating Mass with St. Pope John Paul II during his 1999 visit to St. Louis.
“I would like to have that same opportunity” with Pope Francis at the Papal Mass Sept. 27.
Norma Molina, Assistant Director for Hispanic Catechesis with the diocesan Bishop Helmsing Institute, said she was excited to travel to Philadelphia and looking forward to “this extraordinary Year of Mercy. He (Pope Francis) reminds us, ‘Don’t ever stop being merciful and forgiving.’” She had watched the coverage of the Pope’s stop in Cuba on his way to the United States, and recalled that “watching him in Cuba made our anticipation grow. He is bold about mercy, love and hope, especially in reference to the healthy family. I thank Heaven that the Kansas City – St. Joseph diocese recruited me to serve it and to be present in Philadelphia, and maybe see the Pope.”
Suddenly there was a surge to the front doors of the Catholic Center. The buses had arrived and boarding could begin. In a short time, the pilgrimage to Philadelphia was to begin.