By Danielle Francisco
Lebanon Daily News, Pa. (TNS) Sept. 29
Hundreds of thousands gathered in Philadelphia Sunday for Mass with Pope Francis. Followers began filling the Benjamin Franklin Parkway early in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pontiff.
“We actually found a pallet and some cardboard from the water bottles and used those so we weren’t sitting on the ground,” said Dave Hugenbruch of Ephrata. Hugenbruch made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia on a bus organized by the Harrisburg Diocese.
Attendees on those buses that departed from Lititz were lucky enough to make their way through the security checkpoint into the parkway.
Thousands were still in line after Mass. One woman said she waited for over four hours in line, only to turn around and take the SEPTA train back to her bus.
Stories like hers were heard from both those inside and outside of the parkway.
A Harrisburg couple waited for three hours in line but considered themselves “lucky” to get in before the Mass.
Many of their fellow bus travelers never made it through security. An officer at one security gate estimated at least 25,000 were still in line just at that gate after the Mass started.
The crowd stretched for over a mile from the altar down toward City Hall on the parkway. For those outside the parkway or further down from the stage, 40 Jumbotrons were placed throughout the city for viewing.
His visit to Philadelphia, coinciding with the World Meeting of Families, was the final leg of a six day tour of the United States. Francis used his final public appearance to stress the importance of faith and family, a message that was repeated thoroughly throughout the week.
“Really the whole week was about kindness and not passing judgment,” said Dennis Smith of Lebanon, “His messages about family and the younger generation, it was all inspiring.” Both Smith and his wife were present in Philadelphia on Sunday.
During the homily, delivered in Spanish, Francis compared families and homes to church and encouraged acceptance, saying, “Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions.”
He urged those listening to act as an example for youth. “May our children find in us models of communion, not division,” he said and asked the crowd, “What kind of world do we want to leave our children?”
“Inspiring” was the word many used to describe Francis and his words.
Rebekah Hall of Elizabethtown traveled to the City of Brotherly Love with her two children. “Just the things he is saying and the impression he is leaving for the younger generations… is something I can really get behind,” she said.
Smith felt a sense of nostalgia. “I really appreciated that a part was in Latin,” she said. “There were other languages, but that took me back to my childhood.”
Leading up to the Papal Parade, crowds cheered and chanted to pass the time and stay warm during the breezy fall afternoon.
“One would yell ‘Papa,’ and another would yell ‘Francis’ back, and it just kept going,” said Hugenbruch. Chants of “The Pope of the people” could also be heard.
One section even attempted to start the wave. Mei Hugenbruch described the crowds as fun but did comment that there was some pushing at times.
“There were times when the people would push against us. Especially if the pope was near, but you kind of expect it and go with it. I think everyone was pretty respectful,” said Dave Hugenbruch.
For the Hugenbruchs, this wasn’t their first time seeing a Pope. They previously had the chance to see Pope Benedict in Rome thanks to the Diocese of Allentown.
“We were there for a Wednesday Mass and had noticed that our tickets were a different color from everyone else. Now usually that is a bad sign,” said Mei. “As we entered they kept waiving us forward, and we would think that we were as far as we would get, and they would again wave us forward. We were two rows away from the Pope. I could have reached out and touched him.”
The experience left an impression on both of them and even though they can’t call seeing the Pope a “once in a lifetime chance,” they acknowledge how important Sunday was.
“He was practically close enough that I could touch him,” said Mei. “An opportunity like that does not happen often.”
The group they were with arrived early enough that they were able to stand against the fence as Pope Francis was driven by. They left that evening with a perfect video and picture.
“I just wish he would have turned around. He was waving to the crowd on the other side,” she said.
Pope Francis concluded Mass with one request: “I ask that you pray for me. Do not forget.”