Now that I am sufficiently rested, I thought it time to blog about my amazing experience yesterday in Philadelphia for the culminating Mass for the World Meeting of Families. I will first start off by saying all aspects of the day exceeded my expectations. Philly has the stereotype of being a rough and tough diverse crowd; however, I rarely encountered rudeness or negativity. I originally was not keen on the idea of leaving from the Harrisburg Diocesan center at 6a.m, but off we went in a convoy off five packed buses. Before taking off we all prayed for safe travels, a great day and the patience to joyfully confront any challenges. On the way my sister described to me how odd it was to see the highways emptied of its usual busy bustling traffic.
Once we arrived in Philly, every person we encountered was so so friendly and helpful. From the vendors eagerly selling Pope buttons, shirts and so much more to the SEPTA volunteers who were stationed throughout the subway system, they welcomes each pilgrim with warmth and kind words. Frequently hearing “good morning” and “have a wonderful day” set the tone of positivity and welcome for the long awaited day.
Although we originally thought we would only walk 4.4 miles, we were informed it was more like six, so we took the subway to the closest stop to the event. As we walked around the noticeably empty streets checking out vendors, it struck me how different it was to be in a city I have visited so many times without its usual traffic and city sounds. After exploring the area for a bit, as we finally approached the long security checkpoint line, I was impressed by the calmness and quiet of everyone. The TSA security folks were beyond helpful. I appreciated that before they did their scanning/checking thing, they took the time to tell me what they were going to do.
Once we entered the area, I heard people of all types speaking different languages. The preMass party was kicking off. We stopped to listen to a lively Mexican band play Church songs. People were singing, clapping and offering praises to God! I already was mesmerized. A reporter from CBS Philly interviewed me about my two passions: my Catholic faith and blindness. She was respectful and asked well-worded questions. I attempted to not stumble over my words and was grateful for the opportunity.
We met Catholics from all around the world. A kind woman gave me a Holy Spirit medal to accompany my Mary’s miraculous medal; a young guy from Texas gave my sister a hand-made rosary bracelet and a gracious woman who was leaving allowed us to take her spot right up against the barricades.
As we anticipated the Pope’s arrival and the start of Mass, a spirited group of Jesuits surrounded us. Not only did they devise cheers about Pope Francis, Wawa, (a local convenience store) and the Eagles, they also were joking with the friendly security officers. It was a beautiful day and an atmosphere of patience, humor and peace. As we waited, we saw security of all types: FBI, Secret Service, local police, and EMS on bikes. We watched a whole busload of priests who were going to distribute Holy Communion disembark.
Words cannot describe the feeling of excitement which went through the crowd as we found out Pope Francis was about to arrive. It was like a wave. We could hear the loud chants of the crowd’s further way and then it was finally our turn. The motorcycles heading up the Papal parade received lively cheers, however, when the Pope drove by everyone went crazy! Yells of Papa, cheers and a bit of pushing, took place. Then just like that, it was over. On the jumbotrons, we could hear the choir start up. As everyone quietly walked to the closest large screen for the start of Mass, I realized it was not about how close I was for Mass; it was that I was there with almost a million people celebrating in what was central to our faith. The music, languages, prayers, homily… it was all so memorable and beautiful.
Receiving the Eucharist outside was unique; however, I was told it was amazing to see so many priests with umbrellas who were distributing the sacrament. People were quietly respectful as this part of the Mass took place. To hear the angelic sounds of the choir echo through the streets of Philadelphia was awesome.
Although after mass anti-Catholic, street preachers sadly yelled at us, nothing could have ruined such an amazing spiritually enriching/transformational day. The subway was beyond packed on our way home, but everyone was kind, calm and some were still singing. I will always cherish my memories, but most importantly, I will put into practice all our Papa has taught us this week.
I am so thankful to all who made the day possible and I thank you for reading about my experience.
Until next time,