Pope Francis visits the City of Brotherly Love
Pope Francis wrapped up his historic first trip to the U.S in the great city of brotherly love. Philadelphia recently played host to the World Meeting of Families, a weeklong event promoting the ministry of families and the journey of faith. Thousands of families flocked to the city to participate in the annual meeting. The highly anticipated event concluded with a visit from the Pontiff himself. While some skeptics doubted the city’s ability to pull off an event of this capacity, the streets of Philadelphia were electric from the moment he arrived.
The Pope kicked off the last leg of his three-city tour celebrating mass at the Cathedral Basilica with a strong message to clergy. Immediately following mass, he delivered a speech touching upon religious freedom to some 50,000 viewers at Independence Mall, home to the Declaration of Independence. Both Catholics and non-Catholics praised the Jesuit Pope for his inclusive views on religion. Some feel that he is too liberal for the Catholic Church, though old habits die hard. His evening concluded with a parade and concert centered around the festival of families. The festival included appearances from Andrea Bocelli, Aretha Franklin, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Mark Wahlberg.
The Pope began Sunday meeting with Bishops at St. Charles Seminary, a Philadelphia historical institution. Immediately following, Pope Francis visited inmates, their families and prison staff at the Curran-Fromhold Correction Facility. His final agenda item was to celebrate mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. An estimated 100,000 spectators gathered on this roughly one-mile stretch of parkway and beyond to celebrate mass with the Pope. During this two-hour mass, the Pope delivered a message encouraging unity in our homes and communities reinforcing the foundation that the World Meeting of Families is built upon.
While his message was positive, the city of Philadelphia was disappointed in the number of spectators in attendance. The city places blame on the media claiming they discouraged spectators to attend this event due to heightened security and anticipated volume of attendees. So much so that a large number of locals fled the city to avoid the crowds. The media did not deter me but I did rely on their coverage to determine my route as driving was not an option. I left my house early anticipating a long, cumbersome travel in followed by several hours of the waiting game until the Pope arrived. To my surprise I was able to take the subway with no line or delay and walked directly to the entrance waiting roughly ten minutes to get through security.
Pope Francis was all business during his nonstop trip to Philadelphia. Though, he was able to squeeze in some notable moments. Topping the chart of most memorable was the Pope’s reaction to an adorable infant dressed as the Pontiff. After blessing the infant he sent her back with a message to her parents thanking them for their great sense of humor. He also made a surprise visit to a local university. On Sunday afternoon, the Pope stopped at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit institution. He was there to bless a newly installed interfaith statue commemorating the initiation of Catholic and Jewish relationships. Students poured all around campus to get a glimpse of the first Jesuit Pope. This visit came as a shock to many on campus, despite rumors surfacing throughout the week. The Pope is praised for encouraging young Catholics to explore their faith and this visit certainly reinforced his message. As a Jesuit educated college grad, I felt both envious of those college students and inspired. The work that the Pope has done to support the younger generation to revisit their faith, no matter what faith, is reassuring. Prioritizing the younger generation is a critical task that previous leaders have not emphasized enough.
Pope Francis’ mission comes at the right time for the Catholic Church after years criticism and scandal. The people’s Pope has been incredibly influential in his short term and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
The Pope’s visit to Philadelphia was historic and enlightening for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The overall enthusiasm of the city was refreshing. While Philly may have a reputation for being the worst sports fans, the city’s intentions were clear this weekend. Locals genuinely care about their city and were eager to share it with the world. While walking around center city it became clear to me just how proud Philadelphia was to host not only the Pope but also the World Meeting of Families. Local businesses opened their doors to large crowds, hundreds volunteered their time and efforts, Wawa even distributed free water. Hosting the World Meeting and the Pope afforded Philadelphia the opportunity to share with the world their brotherly love. The city was radiating with pride. I was certainly proud to be from Philadelphia this weekend.