Though only in cardboard form and via television, Pope Francis joined about 250 parishioners and friends at Incarnation Church, Mantua, on Saturday, Sept. 26, as part of his visit to Philadelphia for the multi-day celebration of the World Meeting of Families.
Like numerous parishes and schools scattered throughout the Diocese of Camden, Incarnation hosted the event as a means to draw church members into the celebrations.
“We’re doing this so the people who didn’t think they could make the trip to Philadelphia to see the pope and participate in the Festival of Families had an opportunity to do it on a smaller scale,” said Patti Houwen, Incarnation’s business administrator and coordinator of the gathering.
The afternoon and evening included music; magician Kevin Bethea; Mass; food by Styke’s Station food truck from Glassboro, Sicilian Deli in Woodbury; Mister Softee and others; and a screening of the pope’s address at Independence Hall and other Philadelphia activities. Incarnation collected food for its pantry, invited attendees to write prayer intentions to be placed on the altar of the church and asked only for free-will donations.
Parishioners started gathering in the Kernan Center, the parish hall, around 2 p.m. to listen to Messenger, the band from Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood, which performed before and during Mass, bringing life to such music as “Servant Song,” “Blessed be Your Name” and “Make a Difference.”
Msgr. James Tracy, a retired priest of the Camden Diocese, celebrated Mass for parishioners of all ages seated on folding chairs, and some in wheelchairs, in the multi-purpose facility.
Noting that he was seeing the same kind of smiles on parishioners’ faces that were reflected on people in Philadelphia, he referenced the pontiff saying, “Rejoice, rejoice, put a smile on your face. You have a mission to do. You have work to do.”
Msgr. Tracy said the Holy Father has touched people’s lives across the nation and all one has to do is look at Pope Francis to see something special.
“But we really have to listen to his message, and I hope that doesn’t get lost,” he said during his homily. “He is talking about the Spirit of the Lord coming upon everyone. He’s not making it easy for us. … He’s telling us things perhaps we haven’t been doing well. … He is giving an example of what it is to be Catholic Christians. Don’t you feel proud to be Catholic?”
Among those celebrating their Catholicism and the pope was Mullica Hill resident Madison Gedaka, 13, an eighth grader at St. Margaret School, Woodbury Heights, and a parishioner at Infant Jesus Parish.
For her, the pope’s visit to the area had great meaning. “I thought it was really encouraging,” said the teen, who attended the Mantua event with an older sister, younger brother and grandparents Maryanne and Tony Gedaka, long-time Incarnation parishioners. “It makes (people) believe that they can do anything because the pope speaks right to them. It’s a really emotional time.”
Noting her grandmother encouraged her to attend the church event, she added, “I thought it was really fun today. The best parts were seeing the pope come on TV and talk to everybody and the magician.”
Kristin and Tom Henry, from Franklinville, attended the celebration with their three children, Joshua, 12; Aaron, 9; and Grace, 6.
Kristin Henry, Incarnation’s director of religious education, said, “I think it’s great to experience (this) as close as we can without going into all the madness of Philadelphia.” Added her husband, “Experiencing this as a community is very nice.”