The Fresh Pope of Philadelphia

Pope Francis

In late September the United States was visited by one of the most respected and influential spiritual leaders in the world: Pope Francis.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church was originally just going to come to the United States to fulfill a promise to his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to attend the World Meeting of Families. The World Meeting of Families is an event put on every three years by the Vatican council that works with marriage and family life.

The event has a long history of attendance by popes ever since it’s conception back in the mid-1990s under Pope John Paul II. This year, the U.S. got to host the event for the first time in Philadelphia. This event was also really exciting for me as a Catholic, but because I was one of the millions of people in Philly for the event.

The event was wonderful. It started out with a Mass everyday, then afterword a keynote speaker got up and spoke on a specific issue and following that we went to a morning breakout session, had lunch, and then repeated the same schedule in the afternoon with a keynote speaker and then another breakout session. Some of the speakers included a few Cardinals of the Catholic Church, Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and even the President of Panama.

The event culminated on the 26th with the Festival of Families which was when His Holiness, Pope Francis arrived at the event. Along with the Pope, the festival included performances from Jim Gaffigan, Aretha Franklin, a few Christian singers, and was emceed by Mark Wahlberg.

At the conference it was so much fun seeing so many people from different cultures come together over their faith. Along with meeting people from all over the world, I also met various Cardinals. One was Cardinal Mueller, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, which is the top offices in the Church. I kind of wished I said something more intelligent to him, but it was the first day and I was so excited seeing all these papal electors in one place. I also had the honor of meeting the President of Panama. We had a nice conversation about life and the upcoming 2016 election here in America and I mentioned to him my candidate and he responded, “I like them. I’m not allowed to say that, but I like them.” Which I thought was great because he broke protocol to state his opinion.

That same day, I also finally completed a goal that I have had for a few years. A few years ago Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Vatican office of Peace and Justice, visited Iowa to give a talk about something entirely unrelated to peace nor justice and I was at the event covering it for the Dowling Newspaper, the Maroon Tribune. Anyway, after the talk, I was waiting in line to meet him and I was the next person in line when security said they’d do a group photo and then Turkson had to move onto another event. So following this photo I was hoping the Catholic bishop of Des Moines, Bishop Richard Pates would let me meet the Cardinal since Pates and I have known each other forever.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so I didn’t get to meet him. That was until this trip. I ran into a priest whose was and still is a mentor to me spiritually following the Mass that morning and I asked if he could get me in to the vestment area to meet Cardinal Turkson. Thankfully he helped me out and I finally got to meet the first cardinal I ever saw at a speaking event.

After the conference, the weekend portion of the World Meeting of Families included the papal visit. The Saturday started out on a very sour note. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but that day our bus broke down in Delaware or some part of the Northeastern U.S. and we were stranded at the hotel for most of the morning and into early afternoon. The tour company we traveled with also didn’t help any that day and said stuff like “the bus will be there in a half-hour” then two hours later “oh they’re coming in a half-hour.” It was so frustrating that we were all on the verge of tears and ticked off at the company. Eventually, we did get a bus and a new driver who was full of stories. Including that he was a dancer on Bandstand in the 1950s or 1960s.

When we did get to the Festival, we got to go to a special seating since we were at the conference. Before the pope showed up and the festival even began, I played a little game with my group from Des Moines called, “Find the Sniper Towers.” After we spotted some 6 or so towers, we watched the jumbotrons show the performances of Jim Gaffigan and Jackie Evancho perform her take on various children’s songs including “Can you Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John.  Then the real event started after she finished.

On the screen, we saw the Pope board the popemobile and it began its race around Ben Franklin Parkway, which is south of Independence Hall. I was doing fine at the event until he neared where we were standing. Once he reached our area, I started freaking out along with the people around us and then the pope raced past us and I was no more than 20 feet from him! Which was just awesome!

Following the event, we went back to our bus through the Philly subway system and in the subway our subway stopped underground for what seemed like 10 minutes. Though most wouldn’t be bothered by it, I am insanely claustrophobic and I was freaking out. Along with that, there were some people on my subway who for some reason decided to sing all through the stop which didn’t help me at all and just made me want to break the subway train glass window and run along the emergency exit walkway.

Once we got back to the bus, I was really tired and I fell asleep. Apparently when I was asleep, I am told that when we were going back to the hotel, the military stopped our bus and asked if we were with the Pope. The trip organizer then answered yes we were. The military then apparently left the bus and waved us on, right into the papal entourage! Which I think is cool. When my sister and father heard about it, they told me that they said, “Only Noah.” Because I have a tendency to meet famous people or being in cool situations like this.

The next day, when we arrived back in Philly for the Mass, the security checkpoints took FOREVER! I tell you, this line took longer than a trip to Ankeny DOT. I probably could have been to Mass at least two times before we decided to leave the line and congregate around a jumbotron to watch the Mass. Following the Mass, we went back to our hotel and packed up our stuff and went home, well most of us. At the airport, we found out that the tour company forgot to book a return flight for my priest mentor who traveled with us. So we left him behind as we boarded our flight and came back to Des Moines. I felt really bad about it, but he wasn’t too upset about it. Thankfully he did get home, which was great.

Overall, I thought the World Meeting of Families was a nice experience. I really enjoyed being able to see a million or more of my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters live out their faith with each other and with the Holy Father. I really enjoyed the experience and I’m extremely happy for Dublin, Ireland, which is where the next one is going to be held in 2018. Not only does the event bring in an influx in people to the city, it also brings out the best in the people in the city. In closing have one last thought. Everyone worries about a future without family values or respect for elders, but through the World Meeting of Families, I feel my own family values have grown and I have a greater bond to the overall Catholic Church around the world seeing millions of people acting in their faith like I do everyday, which was very inspirational.

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