It all started when my best friend (since St. William's grade school) asked if I was going to see Pope Francis when he came to Philadelphia because she wanted to go. What followed was a lottery for Septa train tickets, high volume caused the system to crash, secured tickets the next go round for the 5:30-8:30 time slot at Paoli Station.
Then an announcement that I needed tickets to attend the Mass on Sunday. Really, what's the sense in going to see the Pope if I didn't attend Mass said by him? Was online at the designated time with a laptop, two iPads and two phones ready to access the lottery for getting free tickets. (my sister was trying for me too) Kept getting that dreaded spinning icon and then timed out. Finally, a message, SOLD OUT. No! Wait...my IPad had blanks for filling in name, address, etc. Score! 4 tickets to the Mass.
The hype leading up to the big event was not good...there would be no parking at the train station. People were supposed to get dropped off and picked up. The mayor was saying be prepared to walk long distances, there was a "Couch to Pope" plan in the Philadelphia Inquirer with instructions for the elderly. Gulp, I guess that's me. But, I don't feel elderly and I can walk miles. The days preceding the event were filled with talk and articles about heightened security...backpacks must conform to size, no projectile objects (frozen water bottles, oranges, apples...who is going to throw an apple at the Pope?) no hollow leg chairs, etc. There is a chance of rain, is an umbrella a projectile? Too much to think about...
Bob and I decide to scope out the train station the day before the big event. Where can we park close to the train station?
These are the signs in the lots closest to the train station. Two entrepreuneural young men are renting space in a small lot behind a business on a side street for 80.00 all day. We tell them we'll be back the next day. There are people holding signs on the sidewalks directing to parking lots, not real crowded, don't see the hordes of people expected.
Up early the next morning, the pilgrims (Bob, Kathleen and myself) leave at 6:15 am. Dressed in layers, backpacks, water bottles, snacks, sandwiches for lunch, cash for parking, we're ready!
Arrive at the side street to park, it's dark, no one around. A very nice man directs us to a lot behind the train station, it's FREE and almost empty.
Woohoo! God is looking out for us...walk down to board the train, where are all of the thousands of people?
We board the train and have a choice of seats!
Wow! 8:00 am and it's getting crowded already for 4:00pm Mass. I did stop at the first vendors we saw and bought a prayer bracelet for a friend and a pin for me.
We breeze through security, no contraband for us.
We make our way as far forward as we can and stake out our "real estate" for the day. We can see the altar in the distance and have two Jumbotrons to the left and right of us. Everyone else seems to have chairs, thank goodness Bob brought a blanket. Only 8 hours to wait...and wait...
What are the odds of running into my Kutztown University roommate ?
Rumors are flying that the road to the food and port-a-potties will be closing at some point and there will be no access until after the Mass. While this discussion is going on around us (I am a nonbeliever, how could they do that?) Slowly a tent is raised in front of us BLOCKING the view of the altar, are you kidding me? People start chanting..."Take it DOWN" and begin tweeting and taking pictures to send to the media.
A man came around and shouted a telephone number to call to complain. A woman answers and questions why are we calling that office. I can't hear her over that chanting and I hang up. It's hard to believe...the tent will also block the view of the people for Pope Francis. Finally, someone up front shouts that they will be taking it down soon. Couldn't they please display a message on the Jumbotrons to inform the crowd? Communication seems to be the problem of the day...Eventually, it comes down, but the metal frame remains...doesn't block the view, but it is an ugly eyesore in front of a beautiful altar.
Now to deal with the rumors flying about the restroom....I walk over to the "gateway" to the street and port-a-potties, vendors, etc. A woman there reassures me that the entrance will be open at least another 2 hours until @2:00 pm and they will have to close it for the Pope Parade. (at least that makes sense to me) Kathleen and I decide it might be a good idea to go to the bathroom just in case..it's @11:15-11:30. We get our tickets marked to re-enter and merrily go on our way. FYI, the port-a-potties were nasty..."Royal Flush", I think not. Returning to the entrance to cross the street to section #1, we are told it is "closed" and we should try another entrance. WHAT? We quickly walk to entrance #2 amidst the thousands of people. Entrance #2 is closed. I have no purse, no phone, nothing...left it all with Bob so as to not drop it or deal with it while going to the bathroom. The workers at entrance #3 tell us to go to the light at the end of the street and enter through the middle and walk up the center until we reach Section 1 (where Bob is and all of our stuff) We fast walk to the street entrance, cross at the light, make our way through the crowd up the center to be blocked by a fence. We see people entering a cattle like chute and it seems like they are getting through. We enter with others and progress through the line only to hear that it is closed. We make our way through anyway (I am persistent), show our ticket, argue our case and eventually, we are allowed to enter section 3. This process is repeated laboriously one more time. Finally, we make our way to a gate behind section one. I am sweating, I am panicked and frustrated. But, oh, so polite and trying to remain clam. I present myself and my marked ticket to have a worker put her hand up in front of me, "NO" no one is getting through. WHAT? She points and I look, there is a huge line that I have just cut in front of..."I am so sorry, I didn't realize". A man and his wife take one look at our faces and lets Kathleen and I in line. We apologize to everyone around us and his wife realizes that their tickets aren't marked to enter that section. She hollers, "does anyone have a black marker on them?" At least that provides some comic relief. Eventually, it is our turn and we are allowed into section one and find Bob. I am now tired, frustrated, afraid to eat or drink anything for the next 4 hours....This is incredible and ridiculous!!! Whose plan is this??? Everyone around us is having a good time talking, singing, greeting each other, watching the music entertainers on the Jumbotron. My good humor returns.
The parade begins with police on motorcycles and bikes, cars, a truck and here He comes! I make the decision to just wave at the Pope rather than try to take a picture amidst the many arms, cameras and iPads. There he is...moves by pretty quickly, but I saw him in person for the briefest moment. The crowd goes wild... This is the view when he goes around Logan Square and comes up the Parkway on the right. The Sister of the Poor are jubiliant!
The Mass begins soon after and there is a hush in the crowd. It's hard to describe how respectful, quiet and prayerful the crowd was during Mass. Everyone was hugging, shaking hands and kissing during "the Sign of Peace."
You may read Pope Francis' Homily I had a hard time following his words and the text on the Jumbotron displayed wrong words, very confusing at the time. I am so glad the full text is available to read for myself.
Whoever thought of the yellow and white umbrellas to signify Holy Communion distribution was absolutely brilliant! Thousands of people were quiet while receiving Communion and no one left immediately afterwards (unlike Sunday Mass), truly a divine miracle.
Mass is too quickly over and when Pope Francis gives the final blessing, I hold up my Grandmother's rosary beads and the prayer bracelets to be blessed.
We turn around and slowly make our way behind the crowd on the Parkway, only to encounter the aforementioned fences in each section. No one has removed them so the crowd could exit. Babies start crying, it's very warm, people are pressed up against each other. People are in wheel chairs, no place to go... After a few minutes, workers begin to remove them. We are funneled on the sidewalk and make our way up I think it was 22nd St. Once again, poor planning...no one is allowed in the street, the fencing has not been removed from the sidewalk and the sidewalk is one where there are steps up and down to the doorways with a landing in between. Try maneuvering thousands of people that way some with strollers and wheelchairs. Finally, the police in the street realize this is a bad idea and allow wheel chairs and strollers in the street. No time to take pictures, trying too hard not to trip on the bottom of the fencing, up the steps or the uneven sidewalk. Funnel onto Chestnut Street...concrete barriers are still in the street...imagine multiple lanes of traffic merging into a few lanes. There are a few cafes and restaurants, would love to stop and eat, but keep moving with the crowd. Make it to 30th Street Station...kudos to SEPTA for their signage, cattle chutes and trains. Only 45 minutes from the end of the line until seated on the train to Paoli. A special thank you to the University of Illinois students who gave up their seats for us! The mood of the day reminded me of the days following 9/11...a kind, respectful attitude towards all...
Home at last...tired, grateful pilgrims!
My reflection is one of gratitude, love and kindness...I am still a little bit angry every time I hear about the many vendors who lost money that day, the only money I spent was for my button and the prayer bracelets (10.00 total) , Kathleen and Bob spent nothing. We had cash with us and our intention was to buy food, drinks and memorabilia. We were pretty much held captive within our section all day after our experience with trying to get back from the bathroom. Too afraid to eat or drink...and afterwards, worried about getting home. I am sorry to those vendors who spent their money and time planning to show us a good time. I feel like the "no show" guest to an event.
My advice for future events...do NOT close the road 4 hours prior to the start of an event. Place the port-a-potties within the venue and event so they are accessible ALL day.
A huge thank you to all of the many workers (volunteers, hotel, restaurant, vendors, conductors, ticket takers, street cleaners, cable people, TV crews...you all know who you are) and those who kept us safe (police, national guard, FBI, CIA , etc.) and the musicians and dancers who entertained us throughout the day...Kudos to SEPTA, WAWA (for the many bottles of water, it's a shame we turned them down because of the bathroom situation), and the Red Cross and others who handed out water at the train station. I made sure to thank everyone I encountered for their contribution. A very special thank you to my husband and friend who shared this amazing and holy experience with me....Thank you!