Note to children: ‘I went to see the pope’

Marcella Chambers, 88, walked from her Collingswood home to Independence Hall to see Pope Francis. Photo by James A. McBride
Marcella Chambers, 88, walked from her Collingswood home to Independence Hall to see Pope Francis.
Photo by James A. McBride

Marcella Chambers left a note in her kitchen — “I went to see the pope” — in case any of her children stopped by. She didn’t want them to worry about her whereabouts.

Of course, had her children or anyone else seen the note, they certainly would have been worried. Chambers is 88 years old, and she had decided to walk from her home in Collingswood to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Chambers doesn’t drive anymore so she walks a mile or so every morning to Mass at St. John Church, Blessed Teresa Parish in Collingswood. Still, a five-mile walk to Philadelphia — to Cooper River, down the Admiral Wilson Boulevard through Camden, and across the Ben Franklin Bridge — isn’t for most senior citizens. Even going by PATCO and dealing with the crowds was a challenge for many people.

That’s what she thought originally, too, when her daughter offered her a ticket that would give her access to the papal Mass, and said they could go to Philadelphia on PATCO together.

“I said to my daughter, ‘I’m not going. I just think I’ll be better off watching it in front of the boob tube,’” Chambers said. But the night before Pope Francis came to Philadelphia she couldn’t sleep until she made the decision to go see him in person.

“I didn’t tell my children because they would not let me go. Phooey. I went for it,” she said.

“I have a lot to thank the Lord for,” Chambers said. She mentioned her “wonderful, wonderful family,” and her husband, who often worked three jobs to support her and their nine children. “He died of ALS in 2008, but I thank God for the years I had him.”

Did she find the journey across the Delaware River strenuous? No.

Did she ever think about turning around and going back home? No.

“It was just like I was floating,” she said. “And there were so many happy people going over the bridge.”

Chambers hadn’t considered that, without a ticket, she had no way to enter the event. But that turned out to be a problem easily solved.

While waiting in the check point line, she heard someone call her name. It was a man named Jim Pope (really), who used to deliver her daily newspaper 30 years earlier. When he asked, and she told him she didn’t have an entrance ticket, a nearby woman overheard their conversation. She happened to have an extra ticket.

“I gave her a kiss and a big hug,” Chambers said. “Everything was just working out in my favor.”

Afterward, Pope and his family escorted Chambers on the PATCO train to New Jersey, and they all went out to eat dinner.

Pope also did one other thing for her. While still in line at Independence Hall, he called one of her sons and asked, “Do you know where your mother is right now?”

To the relief of her children, Chambers spent the next day watching Pope Francis at home on television.