I had no intentions of going to the Papal anything, as crowds are Not My Thing, and Bob generally dislikes anything done outside, so we were pretty much in agreement.
But then, on Saturday morning, we started wondering if maybe we should go downtown and just wander about anyway. Something had stirred in us, but I hadn't been feeling well, so we were still very on the fence. We went to morning mass, where I proceeded to say a few uncomplimentary things about our new priest and his way of celebrating mass. Smallish things, but still.
After mass, we decided to "just go and see" if there were still any tickets at the rectory. We were told there were a few left for that day, for the events bridging the World Meeting of Families and the Pope's arrival. Father happened by outside the office door and said, "You looking for tickets? Hold on." To which, he disappeared for a few minutes, and came back with two tickets to the mass in his hand. He said he had done his Pope thing with John Paul II, had even appeared on TV with him when he came to Philly, and was glad to give them to us.
So, yes, as usual for me, foot in mouth disease, though Father didn't know it, And now we had tickets to EVERYTHING. It was starting to feel kinda meant-to-be-ish.
We decided to go down right away, so as soon as we were ready, off we went. We only stopped for some hand sanitizer, having seen the pictures of endless rows of porta-potties as far as the eye could see.
It was very strange to see the Philly streets devoid of cars, but full of people biking, running, walking dogs, even one enterprising guy piloting a taxi-bike. Then we got to what I like to call The Pope Zone.
As my friend, Manny, posted on his day at the Madison Square Garden Papal Mass, we also had to wait in rather long and slow security line. During which people were told they may not take any fruit inside, so folks were either eating up all their fruit (there was a surprising amount of fruit-toters) or giving it away, I was the happy recipient of a lovely banana. But then! A little later, the Fruit Rule was revised to just no Round Fruit. No apples, plums, oranges. Bananas were now okay! The woman did ask for hers back, but it wasn't readily available. We all did speculate on the Round Fruit rule for a while. It passed the time. As Manny also experienced, as we got closer, folks started to cut the line. Nobody said anything. Spirit of the day and all. Our whole line experience was an hour, maybe hour and a half-ish.
Then we were In. With the idea we might get within sighting distance of seeing Papa leave the Basilica, we went in that general direction, only to find that all the fences and cattle chutes kept us literally corralled into certain areas. We spotted a place right up against the fence a little ways from the Basilica and just parked ourselves there to figure out what we wanted to do. Here was our view:
Turns out, we were too late for seeing the conclusion of the mass, so after much speculating, we decided to stay put and hope we were on the parade route, for when Papa would ride around after speaking at Independence Hall, and before the evening's festivities. All we knew about that was that there were going to be musical groups. Beyond that, we hadn't a clue.
Just to illustrate how clueless we really were; later, a lovely young lady from Pittsburgh, Katie, who was studying at Drexel took up a spot near us. When we mentioned we had tickets, she said, "you know you're not in the ticketed area, right?" Well, no, we didn't, actually. We thought our tickets had been to get through the security line. Haha, and duh! But still, we decided to stay put, and gave her one of our tickets to see the evening part. I hope she got to make good use of it!
While we waited, we were joined by many, many other Papal parade speculators. We had looked up the parade route and thought our chances were good. The police, when asked about anything, always said they didn't know. There were state troopers from all over. The one in front of us was from, again, Pittsburgh. We saw NYPD also. They were good natured, but apparently as clueless as everyone else regarding the movements of the Holy Father.
Here was one lovely addition to our cluster of neighbors for a day:
Yes! A Pope Baby! There was another one that made headlines because the Pope stopped and blessed her, but we liked ours best. People on the other side of the divide would chant Ba-by!Ba-by! so her father would hold her up for pictures. And everyone would cheer. She remained entirely placid throughout the long day. Much more so than some of the adults...
Her name is Daniela Francesca. She stole our hearts.
So, eventually, we heard the speech from Independence Hall begin and end. We were not in sight of any of the jumbotrons, so it was just kind of a blur. Music groups began to play nearby over the loudspeaker. A young girl named Jackie Evancho (13!) sang like an absolute angel. But we were all getting antsy for the arrival of the Holy Father. Time dragged. We spent some time sitting directly on the ground, some children were stretched out on blankets, asleep. But the crowds were really gathering now, and if you gave up and inch of space, it got filled. Soon, I was pressed up against the fence and Bob directly behind. I started feeling kind of claustrophobic and asked him to move back a little, I was sorry I did though, because a group of young (college age-ish I guess) girls wormed up beside us. One reached through and grabbed the railing, causing me to have her elbow planted in my ribs until I moved. I still didn't want to ruin the general bonhomie that was prevalent there by saying anything, but yeah, it bugged me. We had waited upwards of seven hours at that spot. They had just appeared and wiggled their way forward.
It began getting dark, and rows of police-escorted vehicles started going around the circle, so we knew it had to be close. It was fully dark and fully 7:00 before the shouts began that preceded the Pope's procession coming towards us. Of course, both our phones were almost dead, and now Bob had been pushed back away from the fence, so his only view was over my head.
Nevertheless, we readied our phone cameras. He came FLYING by in the lit up Popemobile. Everyone erupted in screams.
Here is how my picture tuned out:
Well, thank God, Bob got a good shot. A video nonetheless! A miracle, I tell you!
And yes, the young lady to the right is my unwilling "neighbor" whose hand and later, fist, appear in the video. And screams. In my ear. She inserted her entire body in a two inch space. So many ways to offer things up ...
But! All the logistics notwithstanding, we were in the same airspace as the POPE! He came within FEET of where we stood! I did offer the day for all my friends and family, and know those prayers and offering were well heard by God on this special day.
We did not hang around, for what turned out to be an incredible impromptu speech given by the Holy Father. Our feet and backs just couldn't do it. We heard it live from home, though, and it felt as if we were still there. (I hope Katie stayed!) We did not venture to the mass either, and I am told people waited up to four hours in the lines that day. I am sure it was well worth it, but we enjoyed it from home, still exhausted from the bit we did manage to do.
I still feel it was a divine appointment. I told you all the nuts and bolts, but in the end, this Pope managed to make each one of us feel he did everything for love of each and every one of us. He radiates so much love, and well, purity I think is the word that strikes me. He never looked bored, tired, or like he wished he were somewhere else. Well, except in this meme:
Haha. But really, Aretha, Nessun Dorma? Poor Puccini. My ears!
I think Pope Francis is exactly the right Pope for our time. We may not understand it yet. But this visit made me love him as much as I love Benedict and JPII. And I feel like I can trust him now better than before. I only was hearing about him. This time, we heard FROM him and saw what he did and the love with which he did it.
If you were anywhere near him or even watched his events, you couldn't help but feel the love.