Pope Francis took the United States by storm when he visited at the end of September, traveling to Washington D.C., New York and finally Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. And while most of us had to watch the events from our homes, a small group of people from the Diocese of Shreveport were able to go to D.C. and Philadelphia to be a part of the giant World Meeting of Families and catch a glimpse of our beloved pope. Each traveler had a beautiful, unique and spiritual experience. Enjoy this glimpse into their favorite parts of their trips.
Dotye Sue Stanford and Carol Gates
Dotye Sue Stanford and Carol Gates are the Diocese of Shreveport family life representatives. As part of their trip to the World Meeting of Famlies, they kept a blog (http://shreveportcatholicfamilies.wordpress.com). You can view all of their entries there, but here are some highlights:
9/23/15: Today was our first day in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families! It was exciting to be there for the opening. We made it in town around 12 o’clock and grabbed a taxi with a priest in charge of youth from the Diocese of Alexandria. The opening session was really exciting! Then we had our first meeting, Keynote Speaker, Bishop Robert Barron talked… The Mass was wonderful, with Archbishop Chaput. There were over 200 priests and at least 100 cardinals and bishops, so many that it took almost 30 minutes for the procession. There were also so many sisters – it was just fantastic!
9/24/15: How can we be light? When God created light, he did so to bring order out of chaos. Cardinal Sarah explained to us that we sin when we become enslaved to things. We can only find fulfillment and happiness when we love God and neighbor. Sin separates us from God, repentance brings us back to Him. .. As disciples of Christ, filled with God’s mercy, we can help others come to know God. As family, we can transmit the faith, speak of His praises, and serve as a Light to the world in the darkness! Are you ready to be that light?
Breakout presenters, Dr. and Mrs. Popchak suggested that families do these things with intention: strive for intimacy; regularly schedule time for play, prayer, talk and work; practice radical, self-donating love, ask family members, “What can I do to make your life better today?”, and spoil children with affection and love; show and speak of your love!
Along with about 300 other individuals, this afternoon volunteers set aside one hour to help pack over 30,000 food packets for the hungry in Africa. The packet consisted of servings of dried vegetables, soy, rice and vitamin packets! All week, participants are joining the Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands project at the World Meeting of Families – the youth are winning as the group with the most meals packed in one hour! Way to go!
As thousands gather this week for prayer, fellowship, celebration of the Eucharist, and talks, thousands are also taking part in an attempt to break the Guiness Book of World Records for the greatest number of people painting a mural! The picture will become the image of the World Meeting to the max!
9/25/15: We joined approximately 100 sisters from orders throughout the world for prayer in the Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Portions of the prayer are in song, their voices were like angels! Outside the Chapel, they erected structures, provided lines and railings for pilgrims and visitors to add their prayer intentions, and we believe there are thousands and thousands of prayer intentions posted on that sacred spot! We added ours which includes all of you! Inside the Cathedral, as part of our pilgrimage, we viewed the sacred relics of co-patron saints of the World Meeting of Families, Pope John Paul ll and and Gianna Beretta Molla, and a combined reliquary containing relics of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and her venerable parents, Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin—who will be canonized Saints by Pope Francis on October 18th of this year!
9/26/15: Bishop Duca joined in the events of the World Meeting of Families today and spent time with the Shreveport delegation.
9/27/15: To complete our day, at sunset, our smiling pope wheeled past us very quickly, we call out to him, he looked our way! Just so overwhelming! Unforgettable!
Our pope’s every word was covered on channels nationwide! What a wonderful week for Catholics and Christians! We will be talking about how he has encouraged us, and how we can put this encouragement into action in our homes and parishes and dioceses! The WMoF organizers estimated that close to one million people would attend the festival – they had to be close. On the stage were top musicians, comedians and speakers!
9/28/15: Dotye and Carol persevered in order to join the group to be present at the Cathedral to escort the deacons bringing Holy Communion to individuals on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway!
On Sunday before the papal Mass, [Pope Francis] circled around the Cathedral! The state police relaxed their original plans to make us stay inside and allowed us on the Cathedral steps so we could wave hello to the pope! He blessed us, as we stood in the midst of his deacons! Then he surprised us all by getting out of his Popemobile to visit the prayer site in front of the chapel! They erected structures for visitors to place prayer intention ribbons. He walked around it, read a few, then got back in his mobile to go to the head of the parkway.
In the cathedral, it was almost completely filled with deacons and escorts (us), and at a specific point, our escort lined us up, matching us to a deacon. We were given a yellow and white umbrella to hold open over the deacon and Body of Christ. The Mass was very emotional for so many, what a wonderful liturgy to be a part of!
Mass was beautiful, serving in the Communion line was touching and our pilgrimage to Philadelphia was unforgettable!
Deacon Bill Roche
It was very powerful to experience the nearness of Pope Francis and to observe the total embrace by the City of Philadelphia and the vast outpouring of devotion and affection by the people gathered in Philadelphia. It was Pope Francis everywhere: light post banners, welcome signs, traffic alert signs, t-shirts and even pizza boxes. My traveling companion and friend, Rick Colbert, and I stood in front of Independence Hall on Friday afternoon where Pope Francis stood 24 hours later and delivered an address on freedom in general, the immigrant experience and religious freedom in particular.
On two occasions on Saturday evening, and again on Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis paraded close by where we were standing. Beyond the thrill and joy of being that close to Pope Francis, I realized that he was blessing the crowd, and me, as he passed by. This was particularly visible on Sunday afternoon when the Popemobile passed by slowly.
The huge crowd that gathered both days was so well behaved and appreciative. The crowd on Saturday evening was festive while they were being entertained by world class performers. The pope also sat and enjoyed the entertainment. The real surprise was on Sunday afternoon when a much larger crowd gathered for Mass. The people spoke, sang and played waiting for Mass to begin. However, when Pope Francis began the prayer of the Mass, the crowd hushed, and from that moment participated respectfully and quietly until the end of Mass. There was less noise and distraction than at a regular Sunday Mass!
Fr. Mark Watson
From March 13, 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, I have had great interest in Pope Francis. For the past two-and-a-half years I have enjoyed observing his humility and love as well as his wisdom, which is expressed so well in his written documents. When I heard Pope Francis would travel to the United States, I decided to be a part of the excitement.
My adventure began on Wednesday, September 23. I took an early flight from Monroe and flew to the Reagan airport in Washington, D.C. After putting my luggage in my room, I went to a reception held by Network, a Catholic Social Justice Advocacy organization. Network sponsored a tour entitled “Nuns on the Bus.” This tour was made up of a group of religious sisters who traveled from Topeka, KS to Washington, D.C. At each stop they spoke on social justice issues and encouraged political participation. Given the pope’s visit, the sisters made Washington the final stop of their tour.
The next morning, Thursday, September 24, I got up at 5:00 a.m. in order to get ready to walk to the West Lawn of the Capitol in order to watch a Telecast of the pope’s address to the joint meeting of Congress. I stood on the West Lawn of the Capitol from 6:30 to 10:00 a.m., when Pope Francis began his address to Congress. He spoke to Congress about protecting immigrants and asked that those in Congress work against climate change, the arms race and the death penalty. I found the speech to be very moving. Afterwards he went to a balcony from which he could see the crowd. From the balcony, the pope presented a short message and gave us a blessing.
On Friday, September 25, Congressman Ralph Abraham invited constituents who had attended the pope’s address to an Open House in his office. I spent the morning speaking with Congressman Abraham, his staff and other guests from Louisiana. After a short walk, I went back to the hotel and packed in order to take an Amtrak train to Philadelphia.
Soon after arriving in the train station, I took a light rail train to the Philadelphia International Airport where I met my mother and we began the Philadelphia part of our trip.
The pope flew from Washington to New York on Thursday evening. He spent Friday in New York and flew to Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26. On Saturday he celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, gave a speech on immigration at Independence Hall and attended the Festival of Families, which was held outside of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mom and I spent most of the day on Saturday at the Festival of Families. We enjoyed entertainment by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Juanes, Andrea Bocelli and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The high point of the evening was an inspiring speech on the family by Pope Francis. Shortly after he began, he turned from his prepared notes and spoke from the heart. His message focused on the love of God and the hope found within the family. He stated, “The family is a factory of hope, a factory of Resurrection.” His speech also included humor when he said, “sometimes plates can fly, and children can bring headaches! And I won’t say anything about mothers-in-law.”
Finally on Sunday, September 27 the pope celebrated Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I was able to concelebrate with about 350 other priests. I was honored to be able to concelebrate a Mass which was celebrated by Pope Francis.
My experience in Philadelphia left me with a feeling of deep gratitude that God has blessed the Church with such a humble, loving and outgoing pope.
“Love is something we learn; Love is something we live; Love grows as it is forged by the situations each family experiences.” Pope Francis
This quote describes our trip to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit. From our four-day car trip with four kids to the week of amazing talks, to the six hour wait to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis and the four hour line for security to receive the final blessing at the papal Mass: this trip was about love.
Preparation for this adventure started a year ago. We were fortunate to be able to bring our whole family and our 12-year-old cousin from D.C. and stay with our dear friends at a bed and breakfast nearby. We took the train into the city everyday, which was an adventure in itself with four adults and nine children!
The talks were engaging. (You can listen to them at www.iradiophilly.com under podcasts). The exhibition hall with hundreds of vendors was like a Catholic Disneyland with everything from books about saints to sacramentals to life-size pope cut-outs. I loved that our family was surrounded by so many priests and nuns. There’s nothing better than seeing my kids chat with nuns about their favorite saints or seeing priests on the streets hearing confession and giving absolution.
On Friday, we were able to celebrate Mass with the Archbishop of Military Services. It was a blessing to see people from home when we had lunch with Bishop Duca and others from Shreveport one afternoon. Out of the thousands of people waiting for the papal parade on Saturday, who should I see, but my Shreveport friend Shelly Voltz! In the massive pope-loving crowd, we also found our cousin’s brother and the rest of the Shreveport group. I don’t think these were coincidences, but little acts of love by God. The pope’s words at the Festival of Families were inspiring and there was so much excitement and joy in our family as we waved and shouted when the pope passed us by in his parade. That night on the train someone led a rosary in our train car: love! Even though the next day, we only made it to the end of Mass because of the security line, the four-and-a-half hour wait was enjoyable. People were so friendly and helpful, sometimes pushing a stroller as I nursed my son, or entertaining my energetic kids. My kids felt the love and were well-behaved for the very long wait. Our family will never forget this love-filled adventure and we are hopeful that we can do it again in Dublin 2018!
While waiting in line, like thousands of others, Pope Francis passed about 50 feet away from us for about 30 seconds. Adriana Gonzalez-Toledo, my trip mate, helped me up a cement base that put me above everyone’s head (I wanted her to go up, but she has had the fortune of seeing Pope Francis on two more occasions, so she made sure the crowds did not push me). As Pope Francis passed by, I felt his blessing directly on me and my heart became warm and full of joy. I like to think that I had a mini Pentecost experience. Although I did not speak in tongues, I was inspired to pray for all of us there and for all who were not able to attend. My prayer to God in that moment was that He help us to follow the pope’s example of honesty, humbleness and love. I thanked God for the privilege of working for Him and the opportunity of being close to the person He gave us as Jesus’ successor.
More than a million people made it to Philadelphia, but less than half were able to enter to the pope’s Sunday Mass because it took about seven hours in line to go through security. After six hours in line, I was able to enter, just as Pope Francis gave the final blessing and I was able to see it on a screen, still a mile away from the altar.
I would do it again, if given the chance. What a blessing is to belong to the Catholic Church that invites and encourages us to follow Jesus’ teachings and the hope that we will all be together in God’s Kingdom!