A Warm Sunday Welcoming of Pope Francis

Pope Francis was certainly busy during the weekend on October 26-27 in the city of brotherly love. The day included speeches to bishops, visits to the incarcerated, and the celebration of mass on the parkway with nearly a million people. His World Meeting of Families trip ultimately ended in Philadelphia on  Sunday evening after the 4 p.m. mass.

Sunday started with Pope Francis addressing various bishops from dioceses at the Saint Charles Borromeo seminary, where he was staying. His message was about leadership and its importance.

The day continued when he met with seminarians. He discussed the importance of discerning the decisions of life.

Later in the day, around 2 p.m., Pope Francis made an unexpected appearance at Saint Joseph’s University. He took this detour in order to talked with students, visited the sick, and meet with brothers at the university’s Jesuit infirmary.

The university was very delighted to have the pope visit their campus. University president Dr. Mark C. Reed said, “To have him actually set foot on our campus was unforgettable.”

Following this, the pontiff traveled in a small, white vehicle around the parkway. He was warmly received by the thousands of people crowding the streets.

It is common for the pope to kiss babies. His visit to Philadelphia yielded no exceptions as dozens of babies were kissed on his way from Saint Joseph’s University to the parkway. One of those babies was even dressed like the pope.

The day cultivated in the pope’s final mass in the United States. During his homily, he touched on the importance of small family gestures. He stressed how subtle tendencies can have a bigger impact than most realize.

“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different,” Pope Francis said. “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures.”

Philadelphia was anticipating this day for months as many precautions were taken to even make this day possible. Several road closings caused many people to pursue alternative forms of travel.

A total of 25 miles of highway roads were blocked off in some way or closed off completely. There were also 591 vehicles towed out of restricted areas throughout the course of the weekend.

Amidst these complications, Dan Rackers, youth minister at Saint Cyril’s of Jerusalem Church in Jamison, PA, was able to acquire train passes for the group he was responsible for.  “[City officials] strongly discouraged people from driving into the city,” Rackers said.

Tickets for the papal mass were dwindling in supply. The ones that were available online quickly vanished. Tickets were then obtained through the lottery system.

Due to high consumer demand, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), decided that they would sell 350,000 tickets available over a 24 hour period on a day in early August. Consumers would then put in a bid for tickets. The time of one’s entry did not affect the chance of winning.

Despite the obstacles, many described the atmosphere on Sunday as exhilarating. Dan Rackers said it was, “electric,” and that people were “very anxious to see the pope.”

Rackers, who was responsible for over 75 teenagers, said that he hoped the kids would “walk away from this experience being proud to be a Catholic in today’s society.”

Central Bucks South senior, Allie Saile, described the atmosphere on Sunday morning as “very welcoming.” Saile added, “There were many different people with different background, yet everyone came together as a family to welcome Pope Francis into our community.”

Allie was one of dozens of South students who attended the papal mass on Sunday.

“The most enjoyable part of the day,” Saile said, “was when everyone squished against the fences in order to get as close as they could to Pope Francis driving by in the pope mobile.”

Pope Francis left the United States on Sunday evening to head back to Rome. He gave a warm farewell statement as he said, “As I prepare to leave, I do so with a heart full of gratitude and hope.”

It was announced that the next World of Families Meeting would take place in Dublin, Ireland in 2018.