For the 75 pilgrims who journeyed from St. Thomas More, Centennial, Colo., for the papal visit and the World Meeting of Families, the welcome they received from their Cherry Hill namesake was nothing short of “incredible.”
Michael Tapp travelled with his wife and church family as part of the pilgrimage. He explained that the group’s plane had delayed for several hours and by the time they touched down in Philadelphia, everyone was tired.
Tapp said: “We arrived two hours late. It was incredible that the people at St. Thomas More, Cherry Hill, stayed so late just to welcome us. We didn’t really have any expectation of what was going to happen. To have them greet us and be so welcoming to us, made us feel so much at home.”
He also spoke of his determination to fully participate in the Holy Father’s visit and said he had been planning it for about a long time.
“When my wife and I were married in 1993, Pope John Paul II came to Denver,” he said. “At that time, we succumbed to the media pressure that said it was going to be a nightmare to get around and we were regretful. When the opportunity came for us to see Pope Francis, we jumped at it. We were determined to fully participate in his visit.”
Joanne Holt, another parishioner from St. Thomas More, Colo., was equally excited to be part of the papal visit and was grateful for the hospitality extended to them.
“Our group felt so welcomed here. From the time we exited our bus, the greeters from St. Thomas More, Cherry Hill, were leading us to church and throughout the events of the evening,” she said.
She spoke of the “wonderful banner” that had been made for them. The banner read: “Welcome Pilgrims from Colorado.”
“We absolutely adored that sign and we weren’t expecting it,” Holt said. “We just thought they were giving us use of their space. We were expecting nothing more than that, but we received so much more than we could have ever imagined.”
She continued, “We were perfect strangers that have never met before, but they definitely wanted to be united with us in faith, in our pilgrimage and our love for family.”
Holt served as the trip’s director and made the pilgrimage with her husband and three children. She explained that when the group was looking to make hotel arrangements, they had to stay in a hotel in New Jersey because all of the rooms in Philadelphia had been blocked off.
“We also wanted to have Mass when we arrived and we wanted to find a church that was close to where we were staying,” she said. “We were so surprised to find out it was also named St. Thomas More.”
Holt called this “a wonderful coincidence” because the two communities share a common patron saint.
Like Tapp, when Holt learned that the World Meeting of Families was coming to the United States, she wanted her family to be a part of it.
“This was an affordable opportunity for our whole family to be united with other Catholics from around the world. For us to have a chance to see our Holy Father is a blessing. It is also a blessing for our children to be able to see the love and joy that he brings to many people, not just of our faith, but from all walks of life,” she said.
Speaking for St. Thomas More in Cherry Hill, Sheila Tartamosa said, “We knew the pilgrims [from St. Thomas More] wanted to have Mass once they arrived with all of their people.”
Following the Mass, a reception was arranged where the two churches could enjoy a time of relaxation and fellowship over pizza, soda and desserts.
“Everyone here from our parish felt honored to show them hospitality. We are friendly and this kind of comes naturally to us, “ Tartamosa said.
As a token of gratitude, the pilgrims from St. Thomas More, Colo., presented the parishioners of St. Thomas More, Cherry Hill, with two special gifts: a monetary donation of $500 and a sculpture with special meaning.
Holt described the sculpture: “It is called ‘Maternal Bond’ by Timothy Schmalz. We have a smaller replica in our life garden. We purchase these sculptures to give to anyone who exemplifies hospitality. St. Thomas More, Cherry Hill, performed a wonderful gesture by extending hospitality to us.”