By Tanya Connor
Wish you could have been more a part of the papal visit to Philadelphia? Come along for a partial pilgrimage with the diocesan youth ministry office: New Evangelization Worcester for Youth & Young Adults.
Friday, Sept. 25
Boarding our four buses, 190 of us receive matching blaze-orange backpacks that meet Philadelphia’s security requirements and will help us find each other in crowds.
Elizabeth Cotrupi, director of the NEW office, coordinates the trip from Bus 1, where we chat, sing, pray the rosary, play with cell phones and watch a movie.
Arriving at YMCA Camp Ockanickon in Medford, N.J., we join more than 250 pilgrims from other dioceses for supper, speakers and Mass.
Daniel and Rebecca Dougherty, event directors with Philadelphia Pilgrimages, give us practical information. Rule #1: This is a spiritual event – so pray, and “give smiles and hugs and just enjoy yourselves.”
Thomas Costello and Maryrose Richards, missionaries with the Culture Project, speak about virtue, including chastity. They connect it with the theme of the World Meeting of Families which Pope Francis is here for: “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
Ms. Richards says their mission is to restore our culture to one that is fully alive and virtuous.
“Who’s excited for Pope Francis?” Mr. Costello asks, to cheers. He talks about the pope calling for people to swim against the culture “that sees you as incapable of true love.” He suggests practicing the virtues of speaking well of others, helping struggling friends and sharing your faith by telling others what the pope says this weekend.
Father Nicholas Desimone, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge and episcopal liaison to the NEW office, celebrates Mass in the outdoor amphitheater. Concelebrating are Father Manuel Clavijo, pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Boylston and part-time chaplain at Anna Maria College; Father Hugo Cano, WPI chaplain, and Assumptionist Father Peter Omwoyo, of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about seeing Pope Francis,” Father Desimone begins his homily. “When we see (popes) and the example of their holy life, it inspires us to do the same … to serve the least and the great among us. … It’s not about the pope.” We came because of Jesus, who is Lord. Pope Francis helps us follow Jesus.
Saturday, Sept. 26
Father Cano celebrates Mass at the camp before meeting WPI students who came separately. Later he says he preached about how we could be like Jesus’ disciples, amazed at his deeds but not understanding his Passion. We can be amazed at media coverage of the pope, then forget about it. This visit is like a new way of understanding discipleship: Pope Francis says Christ is not afraid of our doubts; he just wants to have a relationship with us and teach us how to be disciples.
We take our buses, then the subway, to the area closed off for the papal visit. Our groups separate, those with tickets heading for spots closer to where the pope will be.
“Good morning, Father,” a volunteer says to Father Desimone. “Thank you for being a priest.”
The subway station is adorned with yellow and white balloons – the colors of the Vatican flag – and American Bible Society signs for the World Meeting of Families. Poles on the streets sport banners with Pope Francis’ picture and sayings.
“I think the city has really, really welcomed us,” says MariAnn Paladino, an adult leader from St. Columba Parish in Paxton. “The city of brotherly love. It’s appropriate to be here.”
She says she works at Notre Dame Health Care, where the Sisters of Notre Dame are praying for us and the staff is excited for her and waiting for a full report.
Streets are cleared; people are behind barricades waiting for Pope Francis to pass. Some of us join the wait beside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, where the pope is celebrating a Mass we watch on a large screen. Hopes of him passing us on his way out generate excitement.
Mrs. Cotrupi makes room for The Catholic Free Press on the bench she’s been standing on by climbing on a trash can. When someone dumps something in, she says, “Thank you for keeping the environment clean; Pope Francis appreciates it.”
A cleric climbs into a van blocking the street, but the pope isn’t with him.
“Don’t you just feel like the Hebrew people at the bottom of the mountain?” asks Theresa Nummelin, St. Columba’s coordinator of religious education, in reference to their waiting on Moses. “Keep smiling. Don’t get discouraged.”
“Are you from the Diocese of Worcester?” Jennifer McDonald asks Mrs. Cotrupi, who’s wearing a diocesan logo. Ms. McDonald says youth from her Pennsylvania parish came to our diocese to do service projects through Young Neighbors In Action.
New England Cable News interviews Heather Heersink, of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton. She says she told them about the joy of being here. Even if she doesn’t see the pope, she can take with her his message of love.
The NECN men tell us the pope is expected to come by at 6:30 p.m. – five hours from now. We debate whether to wait here, or go where there’s more action. Some of us end up near a stage where singers and dancers perform.
Cheers erupt when the pope appears on the large screen, speaking in Spanish. But he’s not here where we are. We wait. And wait. St. Columba’s boys, their cell phone power spent, climb a tree for a better view.
It’s getting dark. Surely he’ll come soon. We crowd toward the barriers. Cell phones are raised, anticipating that coveted picture.
Then, there he is, whizzing by in the popemobile! We’re jubilant! He makes a loop, and some see him again. The Paxton boys descend from the tree, Anthony Riopel eager to send his mother the videotape he took from the treetop on a borrowed cell phone.
We head back to the subway, catching part of the evening’s events on the large screens we pass.
Sunday, Sept. 27
On the subway we sing hymns.
In the city we come to a seemingly endless line of people apparently waiting to get to the papal Mass, some singing, a clergyman high-fiving us. Deciding we won’t get close to the Mass, we keep walking. Along the way our John XXIII Movement members are delighted to meet fellow members from the Diocese of Orlando.
Finally we join other people sitting on a closed off street to watch the closing Mass on a large screen. While waiting, we talk, wave to buses filled with people apparently headed for a better spot, and listen to singers on the screen.
Tammy Hitzfeld, of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton, says she was hoping the pope would bless the rosaries she’s making. She says she gave some to strangers and one woman said she was a helper and would have the pope bless it personally.
A commotion breaks out. People apparently trying to convert Catholics are carrying signs and shouting. Youth with a priest and another adult meet them, chanting repeatedly, “Jesus loves you,” so loudly that the “protesters” cannot be heard clearly. (Afterwards the adult leader Ron Nowak, says they and their priest, Father Patrick Anderson, are from St. Mary Parish in Hudson, Ohio.)
“Jesus hates you,” one of the protesters says. When the youth say the “Our Father,” he complains about Catholics’ “repetitious prayers.” He says something about molesting kids. The youth sing a Marian song.
The opposing sides are in each other’s faces, Mr. Nowak and Father Anderson smiling, looking like they’re trying to gently initiate conversation.
After the confrontation breaks up, Mr. Nowak tells The Catholic Free Press his group did this at other spots, and that they were inspired by the day’s Gospel: “whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:40)
“We just thought we’d pray for these guys,” he says. “They just don’t realize we’re on the same team.” He says some have their hearts in the right place, others are just angry.
“If you just come back with love, …” he says. “If people come back with anger, it just feeds their anger.”
Pope Francis appears on the screen heading to Mass in the popemobile. The crowd responds audibly as he kisses babies along the way.
During Mass we rise, kneel, hold hands at the Our Father and exchange the sign of peace with others on the street, just as if we were in church. As Mass ends, we head for the subway station, which is packed with pilgrims. As we wait for all of ours to arrive, some from our diocese eagerly share what the experience was like for them.
– To see photos and videos posted by local people who attended parts of the papal visit in Philadelphia, New York or Washington, D.C., visit and Like our page: www.Facebook.com/woopope. From your Twitter account you can also find local Tweets by searching for #woopope. (If you were there and you didn’t get a chance to post your pictures, there is still time to do so. Encourage your friends to look at the papal excitement online.)