Monday, November 2, 2015

World Meeting of Families: The Journey


Remember that time Pope Francis came to the United States? Right. About that.

The World Meeting of Families (WMoF) first got on my radar back when we lived near Philadelphia (in 2014). Learning that your diocese will be hosting a week-long congress with amazing Catholic speakers that will culminate in a giant Festival of Families and be concluded with an outdoor Mass with the pope is not exactly small news, after all. Needless to say, I was beyond excited!

However, we moved away from Philly and I concluded that there was no way I could manage the week-long congress on family life - but we knew we wanted to be there. And despite the fact that my brother-in-law would be less than a month away from defending his thesis(!), my sister (who we currently live down the road from) knew that their family wanted to be part of such a powerful, memorable, probably-once-in-a-lifetime experience as well. So, many many months ago we made plans to caravan our two families to Philadelphia for the concluding weekend (which would put us there for the Festival of Families and Mass with Pope Francis).

From that point on our journey became a true pilgrimage requiring research, planning, and (of course) a good amount of prayer.

On Friday, September 25th we hit the road and, amazingly enough, experienced a seamless drive that only required us to stop for one bathroom break and lunch. As we traveled I had no doubt that God was watching out for us - because previously Michael and I had taken the kids on a couple of adventures less than an hour and a half away that were (to put it gently) not the quietest or most peaceful trips for our littlest. Yet, on our big road-trip baby Peter napped at all the right times, I had plenty of snacks and/or activities to keep Gabriel from becoming restless or whiny, and we didn't even encounter bad traffic. God is good.

Philadelphia or bust!

One of the simplest, funniest memories I have from that day of travel took place as we got close to Philadelphia. I turned on the radio and the first station that came through was playing - no joke - the Rocky theme song

Full disclosure: I've never seen the Rocky movies, but after living near Philly it would have been impossible for me not to know about the famous movie scene in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not to mention, that infamous sprint took place down the very same Benjamin Franklin Parkway where we would first lay eyes on the hearing the theme song as we drove in got us PUMPED.

We stayed the weekend with a couple of our friends in the suburbs, but because we arrived early we decided to kill a little time at the King of Prussia mall; that way Gabriel and his slightly older cousins could get all their pent-up energy out at the play area.

Then, before we headed out to see our friends we discovered that there was a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis at the mall! Naturally, we snapped a photo of this first "meeting" with the pope.

Not pictured: my sister (snapping the photo) and Peter (in the stroller to the left)

Friday night was just what we needed after our two families traveled with our (total of) 5 kids; we ordered pizza, stayed in, and enjoyed some good company. Although pretty much everyone we knew locally had their own plans for seeing the pope and were staying all over the place (in the city and suburbs) we managed to see a good many of them that first night. It meant so much to Michael and me that they made an effort to connect with us on such a crazy, busy weekend.

To an outsider it would appear that our journey to Philadelphia was an ordinary, uneventful road trip but in all actuality it was a journey I won't soon forget. I have no doubt that we experienced many graces traveling with our young children and when I reflect on all of it I cannot help but think how immensely blessed we were to have the weekend that we did...and it's worth noting that many of these blessings came from our wonderful friends.

Anyone with toddlers or babies knows that one little hiccup can turn a positive, peaceful experience into one that is mentally and physically draining - but we were blessed to set out on the longest (and most exhausting) day of the weekend with a fresh, joyful outlook and I have no doubt that our friends played a role in that.

Thanks to our friends in the Philadelphia area we had a place to stay free of charge. We had VIP/restricted area tickets to both the Festival of Families AND Sunday's Mass with Pope Francis. We were given maps, instructions, and advice from those who had been at the WMoF Congress and those who were coordinating all kinds of things for the Archdiocese. We were given beds to sleep in, food to eat, and access to the best public views of the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

So while the journey itself may seem a small thing to dedicate an entire blog post to, in my recollection it is anything but. The support, the kindness, and generosity we were shown helped set the tone for the very long weekend we would soon experience. Truly, everything and everyone that got us there is part of a journey worth remembering.

"Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination."

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