Preparing to cross over to the other side

Preparing to cross over to the other side
The Philadelphia skyline is visible from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge pedestrian walkway. Many people are expected to walk across the bridge for the papal Mass on Sept. 27. Photo by Carl Peters

The Philadelphia skyline is visible from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge pedestrian walkway. Many people are expected to walk across the bridge for the papal Mass on Sept. 27.
Photo by Carl Peters

As I cross the intersection of Third and Pearl streets in Camden and approach the steps, I take stock of what I have.

Full bottle of water. Check. Comfortable clothing. Check. Sneakers with adequate support and tight laces. Check. Sunglasses and hat. Check and check.

It is a sunny Friday morning, and I am about to take a practice run (er, walk) for what thousands of pilgrims will be doing in a little more than two weeks for Pope Francis’ Mass in Philadelphia: cross the Ben Franklin Bridge.

While it is thought that for the Papal Mass on the Parkway on Sept. 27, the asphalt lanes on the bridge will be open to walkers, I am walking the 1.5 miles to Philadelphia on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. Having lived in New Jersey my entire life, and crossed the bridge countless times, both ways, via car or Patco train, I have never walked its length.

As my feet hit the concrete walkway, I feel the constant rumble of the suspension bridge as hundreds of cars speed by in both directions on my right. I try not to look over the railing.

I encounter the occasional walker, biker or runner. I meet another first-timer, a man in a lime-green shirt who tells me he just moved to Philadelphia from Pennsville and wanted to walk the bridge into New Jersey. Evidently, he is on his return trip.

We are both surprised at the lack of breeze on the walkway. We thought, being so high up above the water, we would get some cool air to offset the heat. Instead, we feel the heat of being that much closer to the sun.

In a little less than 45 minutes (stopping along the way to take in the sights of the Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts), I find myself on Fifth Street in Philadelphia. I have reached the other side.

“The other side.” I’ve heard that phrase frequently in movies or on television, usually before one character is about to do something objectionable to another character. “See you on the other side.”

As I crossed to “the other side,” Philadelphia, I wondered: am I doing what I must to ensure that my ultimate “other side” is heaven and eternal life with Jesus and the saints?

Just as in checking the shoes I am wearing, the water bottle in my hand, and the baseball cap on my head, I take inventory of my daily spiritual supplies.

Rosary in my pocket? Check. Magnificat in my satchel? Check.

But for the past few weeks the rosary has not been touched, other than to transport it from my dresser to my pocket in the morning, and vice versa at night. And my Magnificat, ideal for morning, evening and night prayer? It’s getting a bit dusty in the bottom of my bag, buried underneath my note pad and energy bars.

These items are with me (as is the church next to my workplace, with its daily noon Mass), but I do not use them as I should. The demands, busyness and temptations of this world pull me away. It is as if I had my cap, water, and shoes with me as I crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge, but stuffed them into a backpack before I started my journey and forgot about them.

As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

If put on properly, my daily “armor of God” is my rosary, and Magnificat, and daily Mass. Other days, that can include adoration or confession. I suspect others’ armor is the same, or very similar. But a sheathed sword and hung-up shield are useless.

At the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, I make my way down Race Street to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and stop in for a prayer. I next reach the Parkway, and see the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, where Pope Francis will say Mass in a few short weeks. I make my way to 15th and Locust, catching a train back to Camden.

I will be making my way back across the bridge soon, and I know now that I am prepared to stand with the hundreds of thousands (maybe a million) in Philadelphia for Mass with the Holy Father.

But am I ready for the eternal feast, with God the Father in heaven? My rosary and Magnificat will help write that journey.


Peter G. Sánchez is the Catholic Star Herald staff writer.

Categories: As I See It, Columns

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