I had the great privilege to attend the events of the Papal Weekend in Philadelphia, joining hundreds of thousands of fellow Catholics and people from all over the globe.
Whether it was a group from Detroit that engaged everyone in a “We love Papa, yes we do, we love Papa, how ’bout you?” chant, or the woman from one of the numerous security agencies who had come from Omaha, Neb., and was unable to contain her emotions upon being able to experience the opportunity, or a group from El Salvador that stopped in the middle of the street to kick around a soccer ball, or a priest from Boston who came just to be a Eucharistic minister at the mass, the city had truly transformed into a melting pot as we were all there for one reason, to be a part of Pope Francis’ first visit to Philadelphia.
For me, the weekend began with a mass that my dad and I attended. On our way into the festival area, we met a sister from Nashville, Tenn. She mentioned that a group of nuns were gathering for mass at St. John the Evangelist, to be said by Australian archbishop, Michael Kennedy. We decided to stay for the mass, somehow finding ourselves immersed in an Australian pilgrimage. It was, in a word, interesting.
As I waited along the parade route, I met a woman from Ohio, who had come for the day, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope. Across from us was the chanting group from Detroit.
The evening ended with the beautiful celebration of love and family, the perfect precursor for Sunday’s mass.
The Papal Mass
I was born, raised and educated (K-12 and college) as a Catholic so needless to say, I’ve been to more than my fair share of masses. Nothing, however, can hold a candle to the beautiful sharing of faith I experienced Sunday.
Like the night before, I had been focused on seeing the papal parade and just like the night before, the pope passed by quickly. Fortunately, I got a second chance on the other side of the route and this time, it was perfect. The Pope paused a mere 10 feet away from me to kiss two babies. As I realized he was coming closer I reached my arm as high as I could amidst other cameras and phones and took a picture as he blessed the crowd. The moment gave me goosebumps. Being that close to the Holy Father is something I will never forget.
Mass itself was poignant. From the readings in Spanish and Vietnamese to the homily to the chorus of voices responding in unison to sing the Gloria or recite the Our Father, to thousands of individuals of all ages kneeling on the concrete during the Eucharistic Prayer, all of it was inspiring. And then Communion happened and I was so moved to receive the sacrament amid thousands of others. Despite being so far away from the altar, that simple act made me truly feel a part of the mass.
After Communion, I prayerfully reflected on everything and glanced up at the Jumbotron. That’s when I took perhaps my favorite picture of the entire weekend. Even better than the shots of the papal parade, or the prior night’s concert or any of the shots of the crowd, was a picture through the Jumbotron of the Holy Father, his head bowed in prayer.
This image and that moment put everything into perspective. Even now, it is so hard to articulate, but for me, this was what the weekend, what the entire visit had been all about.
—Marilee Gallagher ’14