The papal visit last weekend in Philly enticed thousands of pilgrims to see the Holy Father, Pope Francis, because of his charismatic message of God’s love and mercy. But did they all get the glimpse of the pontiff that millions who watched him on the TV media outlets found? I was one of those who needed to go to Philly to stand with the pope and celebrate the Catholic faith I’ve believed in all my life.
So Sunday after two Masses and an introductory RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) session between them, I left the quiet community of Collings Lakes at 12:45 p.m. for Philadelphia to see the pope. Three hours should get me there in time, so I thought.
The plan was that John and Monica Erhard would drive their pickup truck with our three bikes to Pattison Avenue and then ride the bikes to the Ben Franklin Parkway. Meandering up 20th Street through South Philly was a photo shoot of the inner city: alive in many places and boarded up in other areas.
At 2:30 p.m. we passed Market Street about a half mile away from the Parkway, and there we were met with a sea of pilgrims covering both the traffic and parking lanes. Thousands, just waiting in line for the security check tents that weren’t even in sight.
We decided to move to 21st Street to see if that line was shorter. It was longer! For the next three and a half hours the line moved a step now and then.
Luckily I brought with me three America magazines (a Catholic journal published by Jesuits, buddies of the pope.) Slowly I read each one just to help pass the time.
When 4 p.m. came around with no security check tent in view, a sense of disappointment was apparent as we had little chance of seeing the Mass because there were no Jumbotrons on the side streets. But a little way farther, one of the row homes put a TV set on their front step so the passing crowd could view the Mass.
It was enlightening to hear part of the pope’s homily on the family. “In my house, do you shout? Or, do you speak with love and tenderness? It’s a good way of measuring our love,” were a few of the words I heard.
At the finish of my last magazine and within sight of those white security tents, the crowd started to pray the Our Father along with the thousands already on the Parkway. Then, still blocks away from the altar, those around me offered one another the sign of peace. Yes, we were at the Mass, though far away.
White umbrellas in the distance signaled the Eucharistic Ministers distributing the 250,000 hosts blessed at the altar by Pope Francis. Oh, how we longed to share the Eucharist as those Parkway crowds. By now we could hear from the Parkway sound system the choir singing Communion songs. It was a pleasant sound, encouraging us that we were near.
Finally at the check in, all bags and electronic devises were all checked. They even used a wand on my knee implants after I set off the alarms. Yet there was only a block more to go to get on the Parkway. But more crowds created a standstill and no one could get any closer to the Parkway to see the pope. A tree partially blocked a Jumbotron, but we did see the pope saying the final prayers of the Mass. We were part of the thousands at the papal Mass, and we celebrated our faith. Thanks be to God.
Looking back at the over three hour wait in line and not seeing the pope at the altar or on the popemobile, I have come across some spiritual insights. I did want to be a part of the papal visit somehow, and taking the time on an Eagles game day Sunday afternoon to do this was my greater priority. The inconvenience of standing in line for a long time was nothing compared to what many people in our world go through in their lives. Countless underprivileged all over the world wait in lines for food, shelter or assistance. Thousands of migrants flee their countries from repression and violence. Millions of Muslims venture in crowds to fulfill their spiritual Hajj once in a lifetime.
So after this spiritual ordeal I returned home in physical and emotional exhaustion. It was enjoyable to view the eclipse of the moon and rest, thinking of all that has happened this day. In checking my Facebook the next day I was contacted by one of my Holy Family Parish High School Youth Group members, Keith Hartz from San Diego. He commented that in 1979 he had won the extra ticket I had to see Pope John Paul ll in the inner circle at Logan Circle. But, by the time we had reached the gate it was closed. So goes life!
Father John Cavagnaro is pastor of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish, Collings Lakes.