Wednesday, November 4, 2015

World Meeting of Families: Festival of Families


Here's part 2 (out of 3) about our weekend pilgrimage to see the pope and participate in the World Meeting of Families. Missed part 1? It was all about the journey and you can read it here.

We awoke early Saturday morning to catch the train with our allotted ticket times. We were quite nervous about the parking situation, because all the authoritative sources had recommended being dropped off (not a possibility with all our kids in car seats!) and made us think all the spots at the station would be full and we would need to search for something nearby and walk.

Lo and behold, the Lord was watching over us once again and parking at the train station could not have been simpler. The police directed us where to go and (thanks to our early ticket time) there were plenty of empty spaces! Sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference - because once I realized there were no hoops for us to jump through to board the train I felt 100% relieved and began to get really excited!

"We get to see the pope today!"

After a short ride we arrived in the city and then we began to get even more excited. The pilgrims arriving in the city, the individuals selling souvenirs, the civil servants doing their jobs, and the volunteers aiding all the pilgrims seemed to be universally in good spirits. Of course the day was still young and plenty of officials didn't seem to know much about what was going on, but if I could summarize the atmosphere in just one word I would say it was: lighthearted. 

So happy to be back!

Thankfully I had asked some of my friends attending the Congress the day before to find out whether or not a specific exhibit would still be open on Saturday, because everything I found online had conflicting reports. Most of the special exhibits that ran throughout the week were entirely closed that weekend, but I had managed to find one that we could see so we headed there first. As we asked a few officers for some directions they all expressed doubts that what we were seeking was open, but because of my friends I knew it definitely was and we pushed on.

The plus side of all the confusing reports was that no one else seemed to know that an exhibit hall in the convention center was, in fact, open to the public that day. This meant we had the place almost entirely to ourselves!

The exhibit we saw was called Verbum Domini II: God's Word Goes Out to the Nations. It showcased over 80 pieces from one of the largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts in the world. It was beautifully done and now I can say that I've seen fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

By the end of the exhibit I needed to nurse Peter so I prepared to occupy a little bench in the lobby - but to our happy surprise we were told the VIP lounge (including free refreshments and drinks) was open to us. At this point I could barely handle how amazing our trip had gone thus far....

Cousins (minus the babies) at the exhibit

We took our time eating snacks and made sure everyone had used the only indoor restroom we would use all day long/all the diapers were changed before heading back out into the crowds. On our walk to the final security perimeter into which our tickets would gain us entry, both of our boys fell asleep in the stroller. At our first checkpoint of the day we had been instructed to remove the children (just like airport TSA), so I literally thanked the Lord that the people working our security line allowed me to leave the sleeping children alone. Truly, all you mothers of the world know what I mean when I say that I was SO grateful for this kind, familial consideration.

After that we were home free! The rest of the day we would be attending the so-called Festival of Families. We made our way up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and camped out right along the fence that Pope Francis would later be driving by in the Popemobile.

And we waited.
And waited.
And miraculously (thanks to some assistance from friendly pilgrims nearby) kept our children (mostly) happy for the better part of 8+ hours.

Truth be told, there wasn't a whole lot going on in terms of entertainment all day long. At one point my sister's family and ours sat down to pray a rosary together, which I'm sure helped (better) maintain our patience and optimism as the crowd grew thicker all around us. Around noon there were some musical and dance performances televised on all the jumbotrons that we took minimal interest in.

At one point in the afternoon we were blessed to have a friend from our time living in Pennsylvania (who we had not been able to see Friday night) come find us. I had been doubtful she would make it up to where we were, so the fact that she persevered and made such an effort to join us (along with some of her other friends) made for a happy reunion!

Finally, at 5:30 or so some of the main stage performances (including Matt Maher!) began, which helped ease a little bit of the tension the crowd was feeling as we eagerly continued waiting for Pope Francis to arrive. By that point in time everyone had been crowding the fence for quite awhile and I was kicking myself for not tossing a baby carrier in the bottom of the stroller that morning as my husband and I traded off holding Gabriel (age 2) and Peter (just under 4 months).

Eventually THIS happened,

but the Popemobile was going so fast this was the best my camera could manage. My husband was proudly holding Peter up like baby Simba in the Lion King, but to our dismay Pope Francis didn't make any stops or even see us on this all-too-quick parade in the dark.

Honestly, I was not prepared for how emotional I felt as the pope breezed right past us. Of course I had been eagerly awaiting the experience for several months (not to mention at least 8 cramped hours that very day), but as my family and I chanted "Papa! Papa!" I was overcome by this sense of urgency - no, desperation - to have him slow down or look at us for just one second.

The moment the pope passed by I felt sheer longing for him to return, which spoke volumes to me about the reality of this Successor of the Prince of the Apostles. If I felt this way about such a brief encounter with the Servant of the Servants of God, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church that Christ himself instituted...then imagine how the people alive in Jesus' time must have felt if they were fortunate to catch a passing glimpse of the Messiah.

I've wondered on more than one occasion if I would recognize our Lord if He were right in front of me, but after my experience at this papal parade I have no doubt in my mind that NOT recognizing Him would seem nearly impossible. I'm confident that the unseen power of the Holy Spirit would be simply overwhelming/all-consuming if one were fortunate enough to be so physically close to God. At least, I'm hopeful that this is the case.

It's so difficult to describe and it probably sounds silly in writing, but I felt like our up-close glimpse of the pope hinted at what it must feel like to be united for all eternity with Jesus Christ. Because if I felt such a longing to be near the successor of His church once more, I can barely fathom how much more fulfilling it must be to experience a permanent reunion with God himself.

Once Pope Francis drove by we probably stuck around less than an hour so we could get our children (and ourselves) some much-needed rest. Unfortunately this meant we missed the better part of all the headlining performers and the testimonies of a handful of pilgrim families, but our little kids (who had been SUCH troopers) simply couldn't handle any more.

Stay tuned for the final installment about our pilgrimage: the papal Mass!

"Thank you to everyone who gave us a message here and [thank you] for the presence of all of you, which is also a testimony, a true testimony that it is worthwhile to live as a family, that a society grows strong, grows in goodness, grows in beauty and truly grows if it is built on the foundation of the family."
-Pope Francis, Address to World Meeting of Families 2015

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