Pope Francis' first visit to the United States ended on a very high note Sunday with a massive Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. While the previous day of waiting for a fleeting glimpse of the pope had been stressful and exhausting for many Seattle pilgrims, the Sunday liturgy left us energized and effusive.
For me, Saturday had been full of anxiety: I was consumed with the necessity of securing the perfect spot along the papal parade route, in the front row, so that I could get the perfect shot of the pope and feed the insatiable social media beast. Gee, I wonder why the experience felt unsatisfying?
Sunday, I resolved to have a better attitude. Whatever happened, I would greet it with a spirit, not just of acceptance, but of excitement -- even if I never made it through the hours-long line at the security checkpoint. (A few of our pilgrims never did, and had to watch the Mass on a screen outside City Hall.)
My traveling buddies and I got a spot off the main stretch, to the right of the altar, where we had a good view of one of the many screens. A few minutes before 4 p.m., a priest appeared and asked everyone to maintain a reverent silence as we prepared for the celebration of Mass. I've never heard so many people be so quiet -- it was incredible.
The Mass itself was beautiful, and I received some of the spiritual consolation I had closed myself off from on Saturday. Celebrating Mass with the pope was truly a great blessing. Maybe it was just a cool breeze, but when I saw Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ, lift up the body of the Lord after the consecration, I got chills.
Word was that there were only enough Communion hosts for 100,000 people, but we were among those blessed to receive the Eucharist from one of the many priests dispersed throughout the massive crowd, marked by the white-and-yellow umbrellas held above their heads.
The atmosphere of the Mass was wonderful. Even with so many hundreds of thousands of people, and without a clear view of the altar, there was still a sense that we were "all really connected in unity as one whole big humongous family," said Vui Nguyen, a pilgrim from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Seattle.
At the close of the Mass, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said, "We will remember these days for the rest of our lives" -- and he's right. He and his staff, and the entire city of Philadelphia, did a remarkable job hosting this World Meeting of Families. The archbishop thanked Pope Francis for "bringing your spirit to our city and to our world."
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, then announced that the next World Meeting of Families would be held in 2018 in Dublin. After the past week, many in the crowd seemed ready to book their tickets.
"I hope I'm living long enough to go to Ireland," said 82-year-old Doris Lundgren, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bothell.
After the final blessing, Pope Francis added these last words, which seemed to sum up the week: "God bless you all. Thank you very much for your participation and for your love for the family. And I ask you, pray for me. Don't forget!"
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)