By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Pope Francis was the main purpose of the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. He had addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., addressed the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, visited and laid a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, celebrated Mass at Madison Square Gardens, all in New York City, visited with homeless persons in D.C., and prison inmates in Philadelphia and rode in his pope-Fiat in parades in New York and Philadelphia.
Now he was to attend the Festival of Families to conclude the World Conference on Families, and celebrate Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia. Months ago, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had planned to send a delegation of pilgrims to Philadelphia for the Pope’s visit.
The 325 pilgrims traveled by bus, arriving Sept. 24. On Sept 25, they joined the more than one million people who had traveled to Philadelphia to see, hear and be in the same city as Pope Francis during the Festival of Families that weekend.
“We definitely saw the Catholicity of the church in Philadelphia,” Bernardino Durando, diocesan Director of Family Life and one of the spear headers of the pilgrimage, said. “While we were there, we saw people from all over the world … South, Central and North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Philippines.”
Pope Francis’ message at the Papal Mass celebrated on Benjamin Franklin Blvd., was one of love and the little things, little acts that are consistently done in homes where love and happiness thrives, he said. “Listening to his homily, hearing him speak, was like listening to our parish priest, homey and simple. I could see why he is loved and admired throughout the world, by Catholics and by people of many other faiths.”
And so many people traveled to Philadelphia to be there. Throngs waited for a chance to glimpse the pope in his white pope-fiat as he passed in the parade.
Susan Hayes, administrative Assistant in the diocesan Finance office, said waiting to get into the Shrine of St. John Neumann reminded her of waiting for the lights to come on during the Plaza Lighting Ceremony every Thanksgiving, thousands of people filling the streets. She remembered roving bands of musicians entertaining the crowds while they waited.
“To be there was amazing,” she said. “Everyone was celebrating and loving Jesus. Oh, there were a few protesters carrying signs, but most people were celebrating the Lord and Pope Francis.”
She recalled praying the Rosary every day of the pilgrimage, while traveling and in the hotels in Camden, New Jersey, where they stayed, a short train ride from Philadelphia.
Susan added that the Philadelphians were very friendly, so nice. Catholic parishes opened their churches and parish halls so pilgrims could use their restrooms, rather than the porta-potties lining the streets.
Norma Molina, assistant director of Hispanic Catechesis for the diocesan Bishop Helmsing Institute, remembered a lot of joy and expectancy among the travelers on her bus. The bus broke down about 40 minutes after leaving the Catholic Center the first night, delaying their arrival in Camden the next day. But that was just part of being a pilgrim, she said.
On their first full day in Philadelphia, Sept. 25, she said her group toured several churches, visited the Shrine of St. Rita and Independence Hall, and attended Mass at the Shrine of St. John Neumann.
Sept. 26, was the Festival of Families and the “Pope Parade.” Norma was lucky and caught a glimpse of Pope Francis in his pope-fiat in the parade.
She spoke about the Festival of Families — families gave testimony of their happiness and sorrows, their challenges and successes, their needs and hopes. American families, Native American families, Eastern European and immigrant families were represented.
When Pope Francis spoke, “he gave his address in such a simple way, encouraging families to eat dinner together, sharing their day, and even sharing family arguments, ‘throwing rolls at each other.’” Holiness is found in the little things, she recalled him saying.
Norma said the whole experience of being there, seeing the enthusiasm around them, to be part of the universal Church and to see Pope Francis either in his pope-mobile or on one of the 42 Jumbotron screens around the downtown area, blessed the pilgrims from Kansas City, from around the country and around the world.
“We were there, a part of history-making,” she said. “We were on the streets but we could hear echoes of the music inside the convention hall where the Festival of Families was held.”
St. Therese Little Flower parishioner Mary Sweat recalled her seatmate on the journey home telling her that the pilgrimage had reaffirmed her faith.
“I was so moved,” Mary said. “It was beautiful to see the care and concern of people for other people. I feel gratitude for having been able to go to be a part of history, and I am grateful to the people of Philadelphia for their hospitality.”
She really liked the Festival of Families. “The Philharmonic played, families gave testimonies. An engaged couple spoke of the challenges and blessings of staying celibate until marriage; a Ukrainian mother spoke of caring for a son with cerebral palsy; an Argentinian couple gave testimony on being married for 60 years, and an extended family of Native Americans talked about adaptation.”
And the music! “Aretha Franklin sang ‘Amazing Grace;’ the Philadelphia Boys Choir sang several pieces, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who lost his sight due to congenital glaucoma, sang the ‘Our Father’ at the closing ceremony, and oh, there was a deaf choir – the Philadelphia Deaf Apostolate Papal ASL Choir joined The Fray in performing ‘How to Save a Life,’” Mary recalled.
Pope Francis seemed relaxed and off the cuff when he spoke, she said. “It was amazing. He has an appeal to many people and that appeal cuts across denominations.”
Norma said that “as time goes by, the Lord will let my soul bear the fruit and the grace of the experience. Let me and all of us be open to receive that grace.”
In summary, she said, “There’s a mystery about being in Philadelphia with the power of the Catholic Church, city, state and federal governments all working together as the city was invaded by the Catholic faith. And there was no hostility; everyone was so friendly and helpful. What a tool for evangelization in the City of Brotherly Love!”