-Parishioner Diane Marinelli shares her trip to Philadelphia.
A million people descended on Philadelphia last weekend to be part of an historic event -the last stop on Pope Francis’s first visit to the U.S. I was one of them.
After months of planning, I set off with no particular expectations. I figured my husband, Bernie, and I would wait in long lines and watch the Pope on a jumbotron, but something told me I had to be there. After all, he was going to celebrate Mass on my birthday.
Upon arriving at the Philadelphia airport, Saturday, I use my Uber app. In 2 minutes we have a driver. The entire city is shut down. No cars are allowed inside the perimeter that has been set up. Our driver, Javed, a middle eastern man with a humble air and thick accent has to circle the entire city, avoiding closed roads, to get us to the northwest section of Chestnut Hill. At 11:00 we arrive at the Villa Anna, a 150-year-old home – now a bed and breakfast. We leave our bags and our host, Rich, drives us to the train station to catch a train back into the city. All trains go one way — in during the morning and out at night. The Pope will be speaking at Independence Hall at 4:00 and then go to the Festival of Families at 7:30. We wonder how the 78-year-old pontiff is keeping up with his demanding schedule.
We arrive at Penn Station and hike with the crowd toward Independence Hall. I keep my friends and family posted on Facebook. I see everyone around me doing the same. People are taking pictures, selfies and texting loved ones. We make it to City Hall and a local police officer tells us that this is the route the Pope will travel.
We see a jumbotron around the corner. We decide to stake out a spot here, watch his speech on the jumbotron and wait. It’s 2:00.
City Hall is a beautiful old colonial building. Atop its steeple, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, looks down on the crowd. He appears to be waiting as well.
The hours go by and we see the Pope’s address at Independence Hall. We listen to the translation on my phone. He speaks about our nation of immigrants and says not to “close the borders of our hearts.” We meet Mary. She’s a local, a small woman in her forties. Her daughter is with her. She has her mother’s face – 20 years younger. More time passes. Mary is visibly excited. She goes off to find out where the Pope might be. The officials can’t tell her anything. It’s dusk and the streetlights come on. We hear he will go by between 7:00 and 7:30. More people have crowded into the area. We feel the excitement rising.
Finally, at about 7:15 we hear the roar of motorcycles from down the street and screams from the crowd. About a dozen policemen on motorcycles ride by. Then SUV’s, then we see the television truck. We know the popemobile will follow. Mary jockeys for position to get the best shot. “I’m not even Catholic!” she squeals. Bernie has his phone above his head ready to snap a picture.
I’m intently focused on the corner when I see him clear as day! The popemobile is lit up. It rounds the corner and when he is right in front of us he turns in our direction, waves and he turns the other way and is gone. It was just a moment. A moment which will live in my memory forever.