Pilgrims lineup for a train to the World Meeting of Families at Chestnut Hill west station. Crowds were smaller then expected. (Photo by Kevin Dicciani)

Pilgrims lineup for a train to the World Meeting of Families at Chestnut Hill west station. Crowds were smaller then expected. (Photo by Kevin Dicciani)

by Linda Rauscher

I was not going to going to go. Truth be told, I get terribly anxious in crowds. Curiosity got the best of me though, and I decided on a whim to see what all the commotion was about.

As a born-and-raised Philanderer, I felt this strange obligation to be part of the Papal welcoming committee, even though obviously no one would ever know the difference. So with nary a plan of attack, I decided to go and just figure it out as I went along – a little adventure of sorts.

Meandering through the city’s barricaded streets felt like a maze – one that plopped me squarely in the middle of Brewerytown. Oddly, in all my years as a local, I had never actually visited this section of the city. It took Pope Francis to get me there.

As luck would have it, I found a decent parking spot and soon began my own personal pilgrimage. It was only 30 blocks to get to the security entrance. Not too bad considering the early estimates of up to five mile treks.

On my journey I saw things that made me so proud to be a Philadelphian – neighbors bringing coffee and sustenance for the National Guardsmen lining the periphery of “Popeville,” kids selling lemonade to passersby and, of course, the requisite presence of entrepreneurs offering their kitschy Pope-themed trinkets. My personal favorite was the frankincense-scented Pope Soap on a Rope.

About an hour later, I made it to the entrance next to the Free Library. I was ready to begin my descent down the rabbit hole. I personally had never seen anything quite like the security team gathered around the entrance. There was the TSA, Homeland Security, Secret Service and the Philadelphia police. You could see snipers on top of the Wyndam Hotel.

It was truly bizarre.

Once inside, I was totally captivated by all the weirdly wonderful things going on around me.

On her blog, film critic Carrie Rickey called it Popestock, which seemed pretty accurate to me. Outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, members of a Latino congregation from New Jersey were strumming their guitars and inviting people into their ever growing circle to dance.

I was about to join them when the Pope appeared on the Jumbotron as he was about to make his speech. I took a seat next to a family from Brooklyn, and we listened intently to what the Pontiff had to say.

As soon as he touched upon revisiting the ideals of our Founding Father and the wisdom of our immigrant elders, the enormity of his visit just hit me and the floodgates opened up. I was now weeping in the midst of total strangers. Perhaps it was time to call it a day before I gave Philadelphians a bad name.

The woman next to me grabbed my hand and gave me a Mass card written in Spanish. Now I never did learn Spanish, and I am a half Protestant/half Jew, but was so touched by her generosity, I found myself hugging her and her family and sharing the old Catholic “Peace be with you.”

After the speech, it was time to rest up for the Popemobile.

My intention was only to stay for an hour, but it was such a happy place, I just didn’t want to leave. I wanted these joyful pilgrims to stay, and there was still dancing to be done — with nuns, of course, while “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge blasted out of the Jumbotron.

To round out the day’s events, there were belly laughs at totally Pope-inappropriate jokes by Jim Gaffigan and waving giddily at the Popemobile. What a day.

The Pope gave me many things this past weekend – an adventure in my own city, a chance to beam with pride over being a Philadelphian, and the opportunity to witness a joyful assembly of people from around the world. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

Thank you Pope Francis. May peace be with you. You will always be loved by this Philadelphian.

Linda Rauscher is a proud resident of Chestnut Hill and a volunteer with Green in Chestnut Hill. She is not a professional or even an amateur writer.