Thursday, October 1, 2015

Love is Our Mission/Pilgrimage to See the Pope

"If your Catholic faith ever becomes complacent, if you ever find yourself in a rut spiritually, if going to church and praying become routine, here's what you do:  you throw some stuff in a bag, including a pope t-shirt, you jump on a bus and ride for fifteen hours, you come to a city that maybe you've never been to before, you hook up with over a million other people and you celebrate the faith...When we open ourselves to go on pilgrimage, to do something new, to step outside of our comfort zone, God richly blesses us."  ~Bishop Donald Hying

The stuff in my bag included Pope Francis' favorite book, The Betrothed, to read on that 15 hour bus ride.

When in Philly do as the locals do-wear the local sport's team hat-even if you're a cardboard cut-out of the Pope!

From the moment I learned that my sister Cindy and I would be joining the Diocese of Gary, Indiana on their pilgrimage to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia, I got busy researching the city and the World Meeting of Families.  I investigated the shrines, the food, the historical points of interest, and sent email after email to Cindy with suggestions for all of the wonderful things I hoped we'd do while on pilgrimage.  I could not remember a time in my life when I had ever been so eager or excited.

As the date of our departure drew nearer, I became more and more nervous about the idea of traveling to an unknown city to experience something that I was sure would be beyond anything I had ever experienced before.  Much to my surprise, I received a phone call from my friend, John Schultz, about two days before we were set to leave, and he told me that he would also be traveling from Milwaukee to Gary, Indiana to join in the pilgrimage with Bishop Hying and the Diocese of Gary. He offered to drive which greatly relieved the worry I was feeling about driving through Chicago and Gary. Knowing that John would be traveling with my sister and I felt like a little miracle, a sign of God's providential goodness, bringing security to two women fearful of traveling alone. With John we were blessed to safely reach the church where we would leave for Philadelphia on one of three buses, together with about 130 pilgrims from Gary. And with John, we were blessed to have a guardian angel who befriended and looked after all of the Gary pilgrims during the entire trip.  God always provides for our needs!

I told Bishop Hying that he should have a cardboard cut-out made of himself so that he wouldn't have to pose for so many pictures.  It turns out that in his first assignment as a parish priest he did have a cardboard cut-out and the parishioners would use it to play pin-the-collar on Fr. Don at the parish festivals!  It was auctioned off at a parish benefit when he became bishop.

Before departing on our journey, I asked Bishop Hying why he wasn't already out East celebrating with Pope Francis and all of his brother bishops of the United States.  His response, so sweet and humble, touched my heart deeply.  He simply said, "I want to be with all of the people of Gary.  I want to journey with them and spend time with them."  It was the response of a true shepherd, one who is willing to endure a challenging journey so as to be present to the people who love and need him.  It was a response I won't soon forget and hope to mimic in my own shepherding of my family.

Over the course of the pilgrimage our group experienced injuries, illnesses, missing pilgrims, some anti-Catholicism, weariness, large crowds and confusion.  We also experienced new friendships, deep prayer, spiritual inspiration, healing, forgiveness, profound joy and love.  The latter definitely outweighed the former.  I felt flooded by God's grace and goodness throughout the pilgrimage but never so poignantly as I did when Bishop Hying announced that Anointing of the Sick would be offered to every pilgrim who desired the Sacrament.  As the oil dripped down my forehead, I felt the love of God permeating my sin-sick soul.  Now surely I didn't have to travel on a pilgrimage to receive the blessings of the Anointing, but perhaps, in this far-away church, the significance of the Sacrament, the peace and fortitude it brought, was more meaningful than ever.

"The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock."  ~Jeremiah 31:10

We were blessed to attend Mass at three churches along the way:  The Cathedral of St. Columba in Youngstown, Ohio, St. Peter's Church in Merchantville, New Jersey and Christ Our Light Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  At each parish we were greeted with great joy and hospitality and were offered feasts to strengthen us along the way.  Fittingly, the responsorial psalm at the Mass we celebrated just before heading into Philadelphia for the Festival of Families was "The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock."  It was a beautiful reminder that God would be protecting us as we traveled to a large and crowded city to face the unknown, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope.

St. Peter's in Merchantville, New Jersey was a gorgeous church.

I'd been praying to the Infant of Prague hoping he'd help me get a selfie with the pope.
 I didn't get that selfie, but I did get many graces!  This large statue was at St. Peter's in Merchantville, New Jersey.

Bishop Hying and Fr. Andrew posing with the lifesize cardboard cut-out of Fr. Andrew serving up meatballs.
 Pope Francis isn't the only one with cardboard cut-out images!

Our time in Philadelphia was exciting to say the least.  None of us were entirely certain of where we were going or what we would see but I don't think anyone was disappointed if they missed out on anything that they had been hoping for.  This adventure turned out exactly the way God intended it to be for us!  We enjoyed walking down the quaint and lovely streets of Philadelphia, we encountered heavy security, we treasured our time visiting The Shrine of St. John Neumann (that visit requires a post of its own which will follow shortly) and Old St. Joseph's-the oldest church in the United States that is still in use today. We enjoyed the Festival of Families on the jumbotron,  we ate Philly Cheesesteaks, we prayed more rosaries than I can count (one of the pilgrims from Gary, Dave, made rosaries for each of the pilgrims and had them blessed by Bishop Hying), and we lived our pilgrimage like we try to live our lives-with complete trust and confidence in God despite so many unknowns.

Old St. Joseph's is the oldest church still in use in the United States.
The church entrance.

A charming Holy Family holy water font-fitting for the World Meeting of Families!

Old St. Joseph's organ.
One of the many beautiful buildings in Philadelphia.
Since the celebration in Philadelphia was for the World Meeting of Families, we were joyously surprised, yet found it very fitting, that we should run into a beautiful family from Milwaukee!  Our guardian angel, John Schultz, is in the red shirt.

We spent a great deal of time walking the streets of Philadelphia and I just fell in love with the city. Every new street that we encountered was more charming than the last!  We stood and waited in the midst of large crowds for hours and walked the streets for miles.  And often, as we waited or walked, we prayed the rosary.  This, of course, made me feel right at home as I so often participate in rosary processions.  But each of those walks were not without a purpose.  Our main goal, of course, was to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, to receive his blessing, and hopefully, to have a selfie taken with him.

Pope Sightings

On Saturday afternoon, our small group of about 20 pilgrims had a moment of excitement as we paused to rest in a park.  Suddenly we heard sirens and people started running to a nearby fence, so we ran, too.  It was as if we were all teenagers hoping to see our favorite rock star!  And then Pope Francis passed by in his Fiat on the way to give his talk at Independence Hall.  A man from our group was able to catch a picture of the pope waving from the back seat of his car.

Pope Francis waving from the back seat.
We journeyed on with my sister Cindy and Dave, another pilgrim, braving leading the way as they were the only ones who had maps of the city.  After passing through the tight security, having the entire contents of our purses emptied out and inspected, our cell phones and cameras examined and our bodies scanned by Homeland Security, we arrived at City Hall and the parade route that Pope Francis would travel before attending the Festival of Families.  We waited for three hours. No Pope. Rumours circulated that the pope had gone back to the seminary to take a nap.  Later that night as we watched the news coverage of his visit we noted that he did look extremely tired during his afternoon talk, but appeared to be rested and refreshed during the Festival of Families, so maybe that nap theory was accurate.  At any rate, when the parade finally took place at 7:00 pm, it happened so fast that it would have been easy to miss the pope passing.  Our three hour wait culminated in a two-second sighting of Pope Francis whizzing by and blessing the crowd on the other side of the street.  By this time many of our cameras had gone dead from having them at the ready for three hours.  Luckily, Cindy was able to capture this image of him.

Our one and only clear view of the pope during our visit.  

On Sunday we stood in line again, this time for two hours in a solid-packed two-block section of people, waiting to get through a security checkpoint that turned out to not be a checkpoint after all. 
Bishop Hying realized that we would not get to the Mass from this route and he called all of the 130 Gary pilgrims out of the crowd and we looked for an alternative route.  The crowds at the next checkpoint didn't look any more promising so the decision was made to find a jumbotron where we would celebrate the Mass.  Prior to the beginning of Mass, another papal parade occurred and Cindy was able to capture another image of Pope Francis in his popemobile on the jumbotron screen.  
Part of the crowd for the papal Mass.

This image is so amazing to me because it almost looks as if Pope Francis
is really right in front of us instead of on a jumbotron screen.
Following the Mass, we headed back by train to the stadium where our buses were parked and we prepared for our 15 hour ride back home through the night.  We were all exhausted but deeply moved and very happy. I have never before experienced such a fantastic opportunity or enjoyed myself more.  What a thrill to be in the same city as Pope Francis!  What a treasure to spend a significant amount of time with my sweet sister Cindy and my dear friend Bishop Hying.  What a joy to make so many new friends from the wonderful Diocese of Gary, Indiana.  I praise and thank God for this fabulous opportunity of a lifetime and for the grace of safety for all of the Gary travelers and especially for our beloved Pope Francis!

"Like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures."  ~Pope Francis

Viva il Papa Francis!

I didn't get that hoped-for selfie with Pope Francis, but here's the next best thing!

While I was away in Philadelphia, Paul and Mary had fun with Pope Francis right at home!  
Our parish has a cardboard cut-out in the office window so they took advantage of a photo-op after Sunday Mass.
When I arrived home I found that my loving husband picked flowers from the yard and arranged
them into a beautiful bouquet displayed with my daughter's note.  It's good to be home!
To read Bishop Hying's re-cap of the pilgrimage, visit here.

1 comment:

  1. This is such an interesting idea. I can't say that I have ever been in a position where I am feeling stuck in a rut with my beliefs, but this is a really great idea. Why not travel to meet others that are followers of the same faith and get a new perspective on life. I am happy that you had a good time during your adventures.

    Carson Coronado @ Old St. Mary's Detroit