I love this Pope. I knew he was coming to the United States.
I think that because I am kind of an unplugged Catholic right now (I do not really have a local faith community to belong to and my husband is not religious at all), it did not occur to me that I could or would go to see him.
I mean, with no real practicing Catholics in my daily life, I am not around the buzz or excitement of my religion.
Not an excuse - a reality. [I'm beginning to think I might be being led to create the buzz :-)]
Anyway, 3 weeks before the Philadelphia weekend on Thursday afternoon I got an email from the diocese extending the registration for a diocesan pilgrimage bus trip for 24 hours. I had til noon on Friday to commit.... or not.
My unrelenting focus on my current year's dual themes - "Finding Joy" and "Adventure".... made me stop and think. Why not?
That list was LONG.
A) I don't know anyone going
B) My spouse won't go
C) Bus trip? NOT comfortable
D) I would have to have a roommate to defray costs
E) Have I mentioned that I do not like crowds?
F) I have no idea where I will be staying, eating, etc.
But I kept coming back to
Why would I miss this opportunity?
When would this ever be in my grasp again?
What else was more important this weekend?
So I asked my husband.... "do we have anything going on that weekend?"
He replied, "No"
And I said, "I'd like to go to Philadelphia and see the Pope."
And that was that.
Of course, I didn't think much about it after that because I would have freaked out entirely. I just made reservations and decided NOT to worry. I started thinking a couple of days ahead knowing I wanted to pack as light as possible.
2 nights at an undisclosed location.... 2 LONG days sandwiched between 13+ hour bus rides...... LOTS of walking..... I managed to take one mid-sized carry-with-me bag with healthy snacks & water... a small crossbody purse for my tablet and the universal fanny pack. Done. And, yes, I took a couple of hexie flowers to stitch on the bus :-) I couldn't help it.
BUT I was glad I packed the way I did... no luggage to deal with!
My husband was kind enough to handle transport to the bus.... he dropped my off, I took a deep breath and walked into the room where the group was gathered.
And right away I spotted someone I knew. Crazy, huh? I don't know this woman well... but I have known her LONG... so it was an opportunity to know her better. (And she saved me a seat on the bus so we had a lot of time to chat!)
I'd be lying if I said it was a comfortable trip :-) The seats were MUCH better than plane seats.. but just about anything feels cramped after a few hours! BUT we did stop every 2-3 hours and I took advantage and walked as much as possible. Even when we stopped for dinner.. I skipped it and walked round and round the restaurant... I am sure people thought I was nuts but it did get the kinks out!
It was well after 10pm when I found my room and met my roommate and went to sleep.
Saturday morning, we were to grab breakfast and meet at the bus by 8:30 for an hour long trip into Philadelphia. A little tired but excited for the day ahead... I was prepared for a long one. My roommate was a walker like me - hooray! So we decided to hike the 5 miles into the city rather than wait for the metro. We hiked in, grabbed a sub at a deli before we got in the line for security.... which moved pretty quickly.
|ahead to get thru Saturday Security|
|and behind.... glad I got there early!|
Most of the day was spent milling around.... I was fortunate enough to locate a very good pastor friend who had come up separately (surprise for both of us!) ...
|one little piece that my camera could catch.. can you imagine finding a friend in this? But it did make it easy to see the Pope when he came through...|
|a LOT of standing and waiting and watching the large screens|
On Sunday I shared coffee with a woman I had sponsored for Confirmation years ago who reached out to me from my facebook post (another bit of serendipity!) Three and a half hours (!) in the security line Sunday... and still people in good humor. We got in in time for Mass.... and received Communion (I was totally reminded of the loaves and fishes .... it was hard to contemplate how this was even possible). And then a mad dash (through a surging mass of people :-) to get back to the bus. This too was NUTS because everyone was trying to leave the city.
Major kudos to the Philadelphia transit system for handling the hordes of people safely! And then the 11 hours on the bus through the night..... not really sleeping but no light for anything else. I did learn - for a bus trip, you need personal lighting to keep your own hours!
Mostly what I have to share are my impressions..... so many people - and all in good humor :-) I can't think of any other time when I have been in such a large confusing group where everyone was smiling! I think we were all so inspired and excited to be right where we were.
Once inside, there were more people (and fewer food options so we were glad for the subs!).... and huge screens where we could view the Pope and the constant entertainment that was going on when Pope Francis wasn't speaking or moving anywhere.
It's hard even to reflect back on this emotional experience. I can relate that there were tons of people.... and describe the lined streets.... the inner city of Philadelphia blocked to vehicular traffic - a pedestrian paradise..... the incredible safe-ness I felt hiking that 5 miles back at 9 pm due to the National Guard presence on every corner... so many many people working to keep all of us safe.
I have little experience with large events and crowds.... but the atmosphere was happy. Tired but happy. The weather was pleasant... warm but with a breeze... overcast but without rain.
And I do admit.... I was there... I saw Pope Francis drive by.... less than 50 yards away.
And the tears rolled down my face. I was touched to the core to be this close to someone who clearly does his human best to live like Jesus. And I still feel it when I remember. What a role model!
And here is a take away for me.... one of many.... in my year of "Finding Joy" and "Adventure".... I went to see the Pope.