Pilgrims’ Family-Festive Time

(photo: Susan Klemond)

In an atmosphere like that of a summer sports event, thousands passed the time near the gray metal fencing that separated them from Benjamin Franklin Parkway where the Holy Father was expected to pass in the popemobile Saturday evening.

“We are blessed for the opportunity to see the Pope — it’s exciting and emotional,” said Elizabeth Aroca, who, with her husband, Fernando Mendez, sat on the north side of the parkway. The couple, who live in Bogota, Columbia, help support marriages as members of the Communidad Matrimonial Alegria, of Minuto De Dios.

They came both to see the Pope and to attend the World Meeting of Families, where they said they found ideas and information to use in their work with couples. “It’s a privilege to be able to come here,” Mendez said.

Expectant pilgrims lined up four deep along the parkway, with fathers placing small children on their shoulders for a better view. One man with a camera found a good vantage point in a tree. Catholic musician Matt Maher played, among other acts leading up to the appearance of the Holy Father for the main event, which featured Andrea Bocelli and others singing in between family testimonials. 

One of several people waving giant colored hands near the fence, Ian Ross said he didn’t have much of an opinion about the Holy Father before coming for the papal visit from St. Augustine, Fla. “But coming to actually see him and hear him talk about what he talks about and talking about our country the way our country is right now, it makes me really have an opinion on the Pope — and I love him, said Ross who came to Philadelphia with other members of the Communita Cenacolo.

On the path running behind the onlookers, vendors hawked everything from pretzels to pope magnets. Crossing over the path, it was necessary to step around spread blankets containing coloring books and snacks. Small children ran on the grass around the blankets, adding a family flavor to the festivities, the whole point of the “Festival of Families.”

Father Phillip Sladic sat on a portable chair in the midst of this staked-out territory — away from the rest of the 57 pilgrims he had brought from his parish, Queen of the Apostles in Avoca, Pa. — very excited to see the Holy Father.

“I’m very proud of my Catholic faith,” he said. “I’m proud of what the Holy Father represents. I’m most especially proud that he can speak to Congress and the United Nations.” He said he appreciated that, in his Independence Hall address earlier that afternoon, the Pope talked about globalization, “but to respect the dignity of each human being and to be able to create a world where we live in peace, where we respect one another and respect the dignity of each person.”

Aroca and Mendez found inspiration and hope in all of the week’s events. “We return to Columbia precisely with the mentality that the family is the fundamental unit of society. If there are good families, there is a good society, so it’s necessary to cultivate families.”