This is the third (and final) installment summarizing our World Meeting of Families pilgrimage. In case you missed it, here is part one (all about the journey) and part two (recapping Saturday's Festival of Families).
Sunday, the final day of Philadelphia's World Meeting of Families, was my (all-around) favorite day of our trip. The day was - rightfully so - all about attending an outdoor papal Mass with about a million other pilgrims.
Just like Saturday, we awoke and caught our early train into the city and had a good head start on many others that would also be attending Mass that afternoon on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Our passes that would gain us entry into the closest/most restricted public areas helped us arrive quickly at our final security checkpoint where the lines were already quite lengthy by 9:00am.
I cannot remember whether or not the woman who approached us was an official WMoF volunteer or perhaps one of the employed security guards, but regardless of her title she forever remains a merciful figure in my mind - because she informed my sister's family and ours that we could proceed to the very front of the line with our strollers. She then created a pathway for us to get through as we followed her right up to the gates (Alleluia!). Later on it would take many of our single/childless friends a minimum of 4 hours to get through security and some of them couldn't make it in at all and just watched from afar - so I definitely appreciated the consideration they showed to us families with young children.
Once we passed through all of the security check points we made a beeline for an area we had scoped out during our many hours of waiting the day before. Because we had already had our up-close and personal glimpse of Pope Francis, we made the wise decision to avoid the fences lining the parkway. Instead, we chose a little grassy hill that was perfect for our young families; it would allow us to look down on the papal parade that was scheduled to take place prior to Mass, it would keep us out of the surprising amount of dust and dirt clouds we were unfortunately subjected to the day before, and it gave us easy access to food and porta-potties.
At that point we spread out our blankets and simply did everything we could to enjoy the 5ish hours remaining until Mass that afternoon.
From our spot we were able to walk around and look at souvenirs, get lunch, or access the porta-potties whenever we needed to or wanted to kill some time (without fighting crowds for at least 45 minutes to return). The blankets and the surrounding grass made a nice space for our children to spread out, which certainly made for happy campers. Plus, I brought a handful of board books that helped occupy the 5 children in our two families when they weren't making up their own games or dances.
|My sister and her family (minus one sleeping baby)|
|So tired, but still smiling|
One of my favorite memories from those hours of waiting was seeing a group of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal set up camp (not too far from us) to hear people's confessions. So many people lined up to partake in the Sacrament of reconciliation.
Time seemed to pass by quickly that day and before we knew it the pope was making his rounds on a brief popemobile parade! Initially we had no desire to be anywhere near the fences after our experiences from the day before, but as soon as we saw Pope Francis stopping to kiss babies Michael and I quickly locked eyes and shared one of those knowing looks; immediately we knew what we had to do. We jumped into action trading children (initially he was holding Gabriel up on his shoulders) so that he could take baby Peter and hightail it down the hill to the fence. I was too excited to hang back on the hill with Gabriel, so I hoisted him into my arms and we followed only a few feet behind.
Admittedly, it was a lot of fun to follow my husband through the crowd crying out, "Baby coming through! We have a baby! We have a BABY!" Everyone was more than accommodating as they quickly created a path for us (many of them even cheered us on!) and I found myself stopping my insane baby chant only to thank everyone profusely. Before long Michael had made it RIGHT UP TO THE FENCE - something we had camped out more than 8 hours to achieve the day before (you live, you learn).
I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to think, "It could happen. It might happen. Agh, I can barely let myself get my hopes up - but it wasn't realistic last night because of the dark and the speed of the parade, but today...it could happen today. The pope might actually see our baby and give him a kiss!!!"
I continued agonizing internally for several minutes, but I'll spare you the theatrics and let you know that, unfortunately, by the time Pope Francis cruised past us he had already informed the guards that he wasn't going to make any more stops. Womp womp.
My disappointment was fleeting as we made our way back up the hill and began to prepare for what just might be a once-in-our-lifetime experience: Mass with the pope.
|No kisses from Pope Francis but still ALL SMILES|
The Mass was everything I had imagined it to be. At one point I reveled in the fact that Michael and I were able to sit and truly listen to the homily because, amazingly, both of our children were asleep for much-needed naps. I distinctly remember sitting on the blanket next to my husband, holding his hand, and thinking with amazement that the preaching we were listening to was coming from the Vicar of Jesus Christ. In that moment I was fully present and just so grateful to be there.
There were far too many people for everyone to receive communion, but I'll never forget the beautiful sight of so many priests - easily spotted by the yellow and white Vatican flag umbrellas that volunteers were carefully holding above the consecrated hosts - heading into the crowds to bring Jesus to the people.
And truly, Jesus was brought to the people that day.
Pretty soon the Mass was over (hooray for being blessed by the pope!) and we began to pack up our things. When I returned from using the restroom I found my husband chatting with...one of YOU! A reader named Kristen (or Kristin? Cristin? Christen? I really should have asked...) recognized our family from the blog and made a point to stop by and say hello once the crowds cleared, which is always so much fun (and mind-blowing! Because hi, I'm a small fry blogger). So Kristen, if you're out there, thank you for a happy and encouraging memory!
Finally we headed out...but our day was not done quite yet.
At the last minute my younger sister - who is in graduate school - had made the trip with some of her Franciscan University friends. So, while massive herds of people flooded the train stations we made a little detour to meet up with her.
World Meeting of Families, indeed!
Being with both of my sisters was the PERFECT way to celebrate and conclude the World Meeting of Families. Our reunion with my little sis was probably less than an hour, but the entire thing seemed apropos; after all, it just makes good sense to be able to celebrate and recognize the strength and importance of the family with as many family members as possible.
The entire weekend made for a whirlwind trip that I still sometimes have to remind myself was not a dream. During Mass at our local parish this past Sunday the priest mentioned Pope Francis and Gabriel (age 2) grinned at me as he whispered, "We saw him!" As soon as I realized what he was telling me I smiled back and responded encouragingly with, "Yes! We did!"
Yes. We did.
"We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness. And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer."
-Pope Francis, on what makes a family holy