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October 4, 2015

Indiana pilgrims go the extra mile, ‘just so glad to be part of it’

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives for the outdoor Mass in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, the final day of his six-day visit to the United States. Pilgrims from the Lafayette

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives for the outdoor Mass in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, the final day of his six-day visit to the United States. Pilgrims from the Lafayette

diocese were among the hundreds of thousands who gathered in Philadelphia for the Mass. (Photo by Kevin Cullen)

By Kevin Cullen

PHILADELPHIA — Approaching the city on Interstate 76, lots of signs:

“PHILLY PAPAL EVENT TRAFFIC. EXPECT DELAYS.”

“TUNE TO 1640 AM — DELAYS NEAR PHILLY.”

“POPE TRAFFIC — USE EXIT 326 VALLEY FORGE.”

“THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS.”

“THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL SHRINE WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS.”

“PRAY FOR POPE FRANCIS.”

An estimated 10,000 buses found their way to Pennsylvania’s largest city by Sunday, Sept. 27. Each was filled with pilgrims hoping to participate in an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. Most parked on lots that serve the Philadelphia Phillies’ stadium.

“Welcome to Philly!” yelled subway workers as the crowds rushing toward platforms. The excited visitors gave them high-fives and said, “God bless you!” as they headed downtown.

Kim Reinhart, of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish, Zionsville, was among them. She spent 12 hours on a tour bus, took the subway, walked two miles down city streets, then stood in line for hours before reaching a security checkpoint.

But seeing Pope Francis, “the people’s pope,” in person, at the papal Mass was oh-so worth it.

“I could have watched it on TV, but I wanted go to that extra mile, see the glisten in his eye, and make that connection,” she said.

Standing among an estimated 860,000 people that packed both sides of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, she found an opening where she took a video of the Holy Father and his motorcade as it passed by, then headed toward the altar set up near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Thousands of other pilgrims didn’t get through security in time to see the pontiff, even on one of the 40 Jumbotrons.

The Mass was celebrated on the last day of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States.

Reinhart said that his humble demeanor, simple joy, and love of humanity moved her deeply.

“His homily focused on issues of today,” she said. “I loved the part when he talked about appreciating the little things of life — the hug when you come home.”

Some 800 priests and deacons distributed Holy Communion along the parade route.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the crowd was twice as large as that at the first papal Mass ever celebrated in the city — by St. John Paul II in 1979.

“You know that all those prayers were being offered up by millions of people at the same time. The Mass just flowed,” Reinhart said. “I feel very touched by this pope. He seems very relevant, and addresses the issues.”

Reinhart gathered intentions from several people back in Indiana and included them in her prayers at the Mass.

A message of love for families

In his homily, the 78-year-old Argentine pope, vested in green and gold, said, “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small, daily signs which make us feel at home ... faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love.”

He praised the “quiet things” done by family members, young and old, to show love for each other.

“Little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion,” he said, include a warm supper at night, a kiss, a hug, a softly spoken word.

He said he hoped that children would find in adults models of communion, not division.

“In our homes, do we shout or do we speak to each other with love and tenderness?” he asked.

Philadelphia was the site of the largest open-air Mass celebrated during his six-day tour. His visit was tied to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

On Sept. 27, highways, interstates and downtown streets were closed to car traffic, some subway stops were locked, and thousands of police — from city police to U.S. Secret Service agents — were everywhere.

At the checkpoints, each pilgrim went through airport-style screening. Oranges and apples were confiscated, as were the sticks that came with miniature Vatican flags.

Meanwhile, helicopters droned and dark-clothed men with rifles and binoculars scanned the crowd from rooftops. Other police rode by on motorcycles, bicycles and in cars and all-terrain vehicles.

As Pope Francis passed along Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the popemobile, the crowd screamed with delight and rushed to the steel barriers to capture the moment on phones and cameras. He stopped several times to kiss babies.

The smiling Holy Father was energized by the cheers; during the Mass, he appeared tired and was helped to the altar.

At the end of the Mass, in saying farewell, he said with a twinkle: “Pray for me. Don’t forget.”

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”

Ann Minnick, of All Saints Parish, Logansport, said the crowd was “ignited with the fire of love for our Holy Father.”

“His tone was that of calm, one of concern, one of hope and love,” she said. “... It truly was a sense of hearing Jesus speak.”

Christy Fancher, of St. Maria Goretti Parish, Westfield, was among the 50+ people including Reinhart, who traveled from Noblesville to Philadelphia and back aboard a Peace Love Pilgrimage chartered bus. She brought her sons, Jacob, 15, and Nathan, 12, plus a friend.

“I thought it would be a good way to bond with the kids,” she said. “It was worth it — tiring, but it may be the only time I’ll see him (Pope Francis). I felt that God was pleased that we made the effort.

“The one moment when we saw him in the motorcade made it so worth it,” Fancher said. “It was definitely a lesson in pilgrimage. It was a lesson in faith, patience, respect and reverence.”

The experience made her recall a Gospel passage: “We love him because he first loved us.”

Nathan said he was amazed to be within 15 feet of the pope, but disappointed when he learned that he had accidentally deleted the video he made.

Still, “it was cool to be part of it,” he said.

Mark and Laurie Fox, of St. John Vianney Parish, Fishers, were part of the same tour group.

“We wanted to see him for ourselves. We wanted to have that experience,” Mark said.

They stood in line for four hours, and got through security only about 30 minutes before the pope rode by in the popemobile. They also were able to get a great photograph of him.

“He almost looked right at us,” Mark said, as he showed the photo. “After what it took to get there, we were so tired, just so glad to be part of it.”

Seeing Pope Francis was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Laurie said. “Here, in our own society, he has shown so much love. He is all about love.

“We’d do it again,” she said.

“We went through a lot,” Mark said, “but it was rewarding. We’ll recover.”

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