Wednesday September 30, 2015

Pilgrimage to Philly

By Noelle Jacobs

I was raised Catholic and have gone to Catholic school my entire life so I’ve had a decent amount of exposure to the Church, its teachings and its leaders. I’ll never forget when Pope John Paul II passed away and my 6th grade teacher had us make collages in memorial. Nor will I forget our discussion of who could possibly take his place before it was announced that Pope Benedict was chosen. So naturally, once Pope Benedict announced his resignation, discussion commenced again. I went to a Jesuit high school so the prospect of a Jesuit becoming pope was almost more than we could stand while class paused as we watched livestreams and awaited the white smoke.

Ever since that modest and almost shy wave he gave after stepping out of the Vatican on the day of his rise to the title of “His Holiness,” Pope Francis gripped the heart of me, and I’m sure many other Catholics around the world. And while the world, my peers, and myself were all excited about the new Pope and all of the changes and discussion that soon started (and is still) taking place, the thought of seeing the Pope never crossed my mind. I can’t even explain how excited I was to even sign an interest form about attending the World Meeting of Families Papal Mass in Philly, but to receive confirmation that I was actually going to see him? That I was going to attend a mass where the one and only Pope Francis would be reading the homily and inspiring millions? I was beside myself.

September 26th rolled around and at 10:00 pm, I was in the Immaculate Conception Chapel praying with my peers before we started our long pilgrimage to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Being on a bus for 9 hours when you’re exhausted is hard, walking 2 hours and waiting in line at security for another 1.5 hours after that bus ride is also hard, but none of that really mattered because once we were settled at our spot, we only had to wait 3 hours until the Pope would drive by us, do his wave, and then proceed to orchestrate the most beautiful mass I’ve ever attended. We ate and bought souvenirs and waited and when the clock struck 2:45 everyone was on their feet in anticipation. It wasn’t until about 3:05 that we could hear the screams of the people who were seeing him. I remember I turned around and saw all these children running to the front of the cathedral behind us because he was stopped out there and at the sight of them, my eyes started welling up with tears because 1) I knew that soon I would see him and 2) how incredible is it that kids so young get excited about such an impactful world leader. My friends laughed at me, but it was beautiful and it was moving and the excitement was too much for me to handle. Then came the fastest and yet most amazing 5 seconds of my entire life. He rolled by, on his pope-mobile, smiling as if it was the most amazing moment of his entire life for him too. My smile was so big that my cheeks and head hurt and even though the moment was only 5 seconds, I felt completely satisfied.

We all talked and shared excitedly until we figured that Pope Francis had made his rounds, so my friends and I made our way over to a better spot for mass. We got settled and the first thing I noticed was that the group of people in front of us were from Brazil. At first, I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s cool,” but then I looked again and I realized how incredible that was. This couldn’t have been the only group of people from out of the country, especially with around 1 million people gathered, so to think of all the people that traveled so far just to see one man and practice their faith blew my mind. Mass started and it was beautiful. Even though I almost fell asleep a couple of times, the presence of the Holy Spirit with all of those people gathered was extremely evident and very strong. We prayed and we sang and listened and reflected and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that kind of peace even amidst all of the chaos of the crowds and the strain to hear.

We walked back quickly so we could relax on the bus and the whole ride home I felt like it didn’t even happen. In between sleeping, stopping for food, and a bus breakdown, I reflected on the day and thanked God for such an amazing opportunity. To be able to be in the presence of not only the man that our whole church looks up to as the embodiment of Christ, but also over a million other people that share in my faith and/or awe for such a beautiful occasion was incredible. I will forever be thankful to UD for making this happen.

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