by Angela Sanders
People from all over the United States lined the streets of Philadelphia, pressing against the silver barricades to get a better view. Some, who arrived much earlier than my family and I, camped out on the ground playing cards. Small children slept in their strollers, and tired fathers sat on the ground, keeping an eye on their mischievous children as they awaited the Holy Father’s arrival.
Getting into the city was a piece of cake – navigating the crowds, though? Well, that was a different story entirely. Though the crowds were thick, and the walking seemed endless, the strength of the Catholic faith and the goodness of Pope Francis’ presence were unimaginably inspiring.
I was sitting pretzel-style in the middle of a crowd along Chestnut Street before Pope Francis arrived for his speech at Independence Hall. Suddenly, cheers and screams erupted from the crowd. I popped up from the sidewalk searching for any sight of the motorcade. I couldn’t see anything yet, but I knew the louder the crowd got, the closer the Holy Father would be.
The crowd roared, and people leaned in closer against the barricade and each other as the pope’s car turned the corner.
“Papa Francisco! Papa Francisco!” the crowd called.
Arms waved in the air to greet him. stuffed pope dolls, Vatican flags, phones and cameras obscured my view. I stood up on my tiptoes, craning to see over the people in front of me.
And there he was.
Mothers raised their babies in the air like Simba from the Lion King. One baby, four-month-old Quinn Madden, made the Holy Father laugh with her tiny pope outfit and mitre. The pope’s security guards presented him with countless babies, including baby Madden, whom he graciously blessed and kissed on their cheeks.
By Saturday evening the crowds were even thicker. We passed hundreds of people who settled to watch the Festival of Families on the 40 Jumbotrons, which lined the course of the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway. But I was determined to get a closer look.
The further we walked, block after block after block, weaving in between clusters surrounding the screens, Pope Francis remained a mere centimeter tall – a little white dot on a stage so far away. There were so many people, more people than stars in an unpolluted sky, and I was extraordinarily exhausted but equally determined like so many who had traveled so far to see him. Even though I really live only 25 minutes away from the city, the journey felt endless. I kept looking back to make sure I hadn’t lost sight of my family.
Before long, I realized it was impossible. There was no way we could make it. So tired from the day, we found a nice spot on a patch of grass along the road, and settled to watch the event on a Jumbotron before retiring for the night.
Sunday morning dawned in perfect fall weather. It wasn’t too cold yet – right for a sweatshirt and jeans. A nice breeze kept us from getting too warm, which I am especially thankful for when wedged shoulder-to-shoulder in the endless sea of people waiting to get into the Mass on the Parkway.
My mother and I learned our lesson the day before, so we called it a day. We were blessed to meet a sweet couple who did not have Mass tickets, but possessed far more determination than we did. We gave our tickets away, and retired to the Shake Shack where we were relieved to sit down. We shared a vanilla milkshake and enjoyed watching the precious moments on TV that we may have missed had we stayed in line.
Pope Francis greeted hundreds more people on the streets who would not get into the Mass and he kissed several more babies. We walked to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation on Lombard Street to sit with my 87-year-old grandma, Genevieve Chrostowski, who was watching the Mass on TV from her hospital bed.
Despite her inability to speak and having a hard time breathing, my grandma mouthed the prayers. We listened to the homily in which Pope Francis encouraged us to appreciate the little things, the smallest acts of love. We said the “Our Father,” showed the sign of peace, and enjoyed the rest of our day witnessing the events together on TV.
Father Anthony Hangholt from my family’s parish, Saint Philip Neri Church in Lafayette Hill, once said in a homily, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”
Through all of this, the exhausting and the wonderful, I think that the most important thing I learned was just to cherish every little moment, especially when they don’t quite go as planned.