Living in the Philadelphia area since the World Meeting of Families was announced has been a wonderful study in how huge events are planned and anticipated (or feared) by locals. After weeks of harrowing news about road closures and long walking distances, we Philadelphians were just given a HUGE reason to make the trek to Center City (that’s what we call downtown) on Saturday, September 26th and 27th.
There’s gonna be a papal parade! And not just one: TWO!
Just yesterday, on Periscope, the always eloquent and gracious Donna Crilley Farrell (Executive Director of the World Meeting of Families—Philadelphia 2015), announced that there would be two papal parades on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The first will take Pope Francis from Eakins Oval to/around City Hall prior to the Festival of Families on Saturday, September 26th. The second will be before the Papal Mass on Sunday, September 27. The route is still being finalized.
Now, I know that a lot of people are planning to stay away from this event because of their many worries. How are they going to get there? How far will they have to walk? There will be so many people there! Will I even get to see the Pope?!
While my natural inclination is to run far away in the opposite direction of these kinds of events (I lived in NYC for 5 years and not once did I ever attend the Christmas tree lighting event in Rockefeller Center), I can now say with joy in my heart and excitement bubbling in my veins: I am SO going to be there.
Let me tell you why.
Just last year, I was one of those people traveling from afar to a Papal Event. I flew from Philadelphia to the Holy Land in April of 2015 to film whatever parts of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage I could get to for my upcoming television special, A Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land.
First, we went to Jordan, then Bethlehem, and then Jerusalem, and we encountered many, many obstacles along the way. Here are just a few:
- Although we arrived in Amman, Jordan before Pope Francis, we had to leave Jordan a day before he arrived because—for some reason—they were closing the borders early that evening and we would have been prevented from attending the Bethlehem Mass the next day. So we missed the Mass in Amman and the opportunity to accompany him to the River Jordan.
- The next day in Bethlehem, we had to get up at 4 am to go to the media scrum, where we were locked in a smoky room for about an hour, then smooshed against the one door they opened allowing us to go outside, where we were sniffed by dogs and then allowed on cramped buses. Once we arrived at Manger Square, we had to run to stake out our spot on the media risers, from where we could film the Mass above the crowd.
- During the Mass, we repeatedly had to fight off people who kept trying to jump up on the risers, shaking all of our cameras and ruining our shots.
- In Jerusalem, we had to walk to Shimon Peres’ house, carrying all of our heavy camera equipment because the streets were closed to make it safe for him.
- On my way home, a $1500 camera lens mysteriously didn’t make it back into my bag after security “brushed” it.
Did I mention that my husband had a heart attack nine days before our trip, throwing our entire production into disarray?
So, yeah. There were many frustrations on that trip.
But there were also many joys that made the whole trip worth it, and which will make my heart sing for the rest of my life as I recall them (and review the footage). Like:
- The fun we had throwing rocks and yelling at goats in the desert as we waited for the police to get to the site of our bus accident on our way to Madaba in Jordan.
- Meeting and becoming friends with some of EWTN News Nightly’s crew as I stood in line for the dog sniffing.
- Attending the AMAZING Mass at Manger Square and being a part of something so absolutely exhilarating.
- Making the Israeli police officer in Jerusalem who couldn’t tell me the way to Shimon Peres’ house laugh when I said, “I know the way to my President’s house! Why don’t you?!”
- Getting to chase after Pope Francis in the Holy Land.
So what do I have to say to all of those who are refusing to set foot in Philadelphia during Pope Francis visit this month?
All you can see right now are the obstacles. But look past them, because there will be such a fever of excitement in Center City on September 26th and 27th, that, if you go, will bring you joy for years and years to come. People still talk about Pope St John Paul II’s visit in this city, and that was 36 years ago!
Yes, there will be obstacles. There always are. This is a pilgrimage. There is a reason the Pope is coming, and a reason why there is a World Meeting of Families. The state of family life around the world is a mess. And we need to do something about it.
Let me say to you what my mother always said to me when I encountered sacrifice:
LET’S OFFER IT UP.
Offer it up for marriage.
Offer it up for families.
Offer it up for the Pope.
Offer it up for peace in the Holy Land.
Offer it up for the refugees of Syria.
There is always something for which we can offer up our sacrifices and unite them with God’s. And this event is providing us with an amazing opportunity to make some sacrifices.
Will we have to walk? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it be crowded? Yes.
Will it be amazing?
For those of you who can’t come for whatever reason, pray for us, will you? Pray for the city of Philadelphia and for all those who are struggling to put together this once-in-a-lifetime event. I can’t imagine it’s easy and they are criticized every single day. Ask God to give them the strength and patience they need to see this to the end.
For me, the World Meeting of Families and the visit of our Holy Father to the United States will be just like Mass. We’re gonna get out of it what we bring to it.
And I plan to bring joy.