Pilgrims share: What did seeing Pope Francis mean to you?

| October 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
Pope Francis waves as he rides in his popemobile down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. CNS photo/Jewel Samad, pool

Pope Francis waves as he rides in his popemobile down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. CNS photo/Jewel Samad, pool

The Catholic Spirit asked pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who encountered Pope Francis during his apostolic journey in the U.S. to reflect on the meaning of his visit. The following are a section of their responses. The responses were edited for length and clarity.

As thrilling as it was to see Pope Francis in person and to hear his inspiring words, what really inspired me was the friendship and caring that we pilgrims showed each other throughout our journey. We were lucky to partner with Catholics from the Archdiocesan Commission of Black Catholics; our groups bonded immediately. All through our travels I saw fellow pilgrims who were younger and more able partner with pilgrims who were perhaps older and slower, ensuring they kept up and weren’t lost in the great crowds. Ken, a parishioner from St. Mary’s, pushed one of the ACBC members in her wheelchair through all of Philadelphia, relieving others of that task. It was such a blessing to get to know each other and to share this experience with such wonderful people.
Sheila Kelly
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake

Twenty hours on a bus, walking miles to get into the park, then waiting hours on the parade route to see the pope only from behind while his caravan flew by was disappointing. However, to attend Mass lead by the pope, to pray the Our Father with him and a million prayerful people was a very powerful and moving experience. Singing “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart” and “Take and Eat” with the crowds in attendance was jubilant. Much like our journey of faith, this journey was both difficult and glorious. Thanks be to God.
Margie Schumacher
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake

This was a chance of lifetime to see this pope. Attending the Sunday Mass will be something I will always remember. Thousands of people lined the street, from many cities, states and countries, speaking many languages, all together watching the jumbotron. When the Mass started it was like you could hear a pin drop. The music and sound filled the streets. Experiencing the Mass with thousands of these people truly gave a sense of the world Church. Everyone coming together participating as one in this solemn event: one voice, one body, one time, one world.
Marjorie Oknick
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake

The very impressive moments on the papal visit were the parade and the papal blessings, which remind me of the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ. His speeches on love are so fascinating, especially his affirmation that “love is the measure of faith.” The experience was like a dream come true; my mother told me that I was conceived after St. John Paul II visited Nigeria in 1982. She believed that my conception was the effect of papal blessing.

I totally agree with Pope Francis that we need to reflect on the ministry of marriage; we are all miracles of God’s love. Those difficult moments in families take us to God’s love and goodness. This is important because we need to support our youth and families in their faith journey.
Emelda Okafor
St Cecilia, St. Paul

One of the things that stands out for me about Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., and in particular to Philadelphia, is the warmth, love and positive energy he seemed to spread among people of all faiths, and even among people of no faith! Having the unexpected opportunity to be on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philly on Saturday afternoon and evening was especially memorable. Our groups were able to view our Holy Father at fairly close range as his motorcade sped along the parkway. The air was exciting and electric; his holy presence was definitely felt!
Andrea Cowell
St. Pius X, White Bear Lake

I will always look back on my trip to Philly and remember two things: No. 1, the way Pope Francis draws people in by his simple messages and examples — as exemplified by his speech on Saturday night at the Festival of Families. After a long day of Mass, visits and speaking at Independence Hall, he attended the evening festival, and I had assumed he’d be exhausted. Yet he perked up and was energized again when addressing the crowds, joking about sources of headaches in the family while radiating delight at being with the crowd. No. 2, the fellow pilgrims with whom I got to share this experience; road-tripping to Philly with Sister Karen and Monica of Visitation Monastery [in north Minneapolis] and Therese and Claire, [Convent of the Visitation] friends; and being received by Brother Mickey McGrath in Camden and sharing many laughs together.
Christine Smeby
St. Peter Claver, St. Paul

When Pope Francis spoke at the Festival of Families on Saturday night, I really heard his message about the importance of families in our spiritual life. When he said “families are factories of light” and “families are factories of resurrection” it reminded me how much my family planted the seeds of faith in my childhood and continues to build me up and support my faith life. How often do our families brighten our lives or guide us to holiness? It can’t be counted!
Justin Kelly
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake

Pope Francis’ homily at the 4 p.m. Mass on Sunday, Sept. 26, spoke to me most personally, for the message was simple and could be easily understood by even small children. His theme of “holiness as always being tied to little gestures” was both beautiful and practical. These sweet “gestures of home” can cause faith to grow and love to permeate among family members. A blessing, a kiss or a hug by mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and grandchildren are little signs of tenderness and affection that make one feel at home.

Pope Francis defined this as the “prophecy of love.” All families can be a kind of miracle in today’s world through their actions of love, kindness, patience and compassion for one another. As he spoke of “family”, he clearly meant the span of several generations and within this “intergenerational” family, it is our call to care patiently, tenderly and lovingly for our children, parents and grandparents. Our Holy Father asked that our children find in us models of communion and not division, so that they may experience the full flower of seeds that are sown. He assured that a family that lives and works in this way will experience gratitude and joy. Pope Francis then prayed that God grant us to be “prophets of the joy of the Gospel as the Lord’s disciples.” He concluded by stating, “May it be so”.
Yes, Pope Francis, may it be so.
Debbie Keller
St. Pius X, White Bear Lake

A pilgrimage is defined as a religious journey and that is what my 23-year-old daughter, Marissa, and I embarked on when we left to hopefully get a glimpse of Pope Francis in Philadelphia. What I will remember most is the people I met while waiting for hours on end to catch that glimpse of the pope or the people that I journeyed with to Philadelphia. Their own journeys to get there, the sacrifices that were made, the distance some traveled. Each had their own unique story.

When I told people I was going, I was sure I may only get a glimpse of a white spot on the horizon but I didn’t care. I just wanted to breath the same air as this most holy man that I believe will one day be a saint. I believed this was a once in a lifetime journey that I had to take and was able to share with my daughter. The moment that made the biggest impression on me was when I realized as we all stood for the Our Father during the papal Mass, that we stood as a community of Catholics. There were thousands of Catholics standing tall and proud of our faith in a world that has persecuted us as Catholics. I was so moved I cried with joy and pride of being Catholic. I not only got a glimpse of a white spot but I was so blessed as to get close enough to see the Pope and his beautiful smile. I will never forget that smile.
Karen Wilcox
St. Mary of the Lake, White Bear Lake

Our experience in Philadelphia was truly a life experience. We were on the parkway on Saturday in a sea of people waiting for a glimpse of our Holy Father. We were with thousands of people from many different countries and different nationalities and we all got along. There was a sense of peace knowing our Holy Father was near. There was no pushing, shoving or complaining. We all talked to each other and shared our stories. When he arrived, we all cheered and got goose bumps, when he drove by, we hugged the people we just met and talked about how great he is. At that moment, we were with people from seven different countries.
Kellie Christensen
White Bear Lake

I will always remember the joy people shared during Pope Francis’ visit. It didn’t matter where you went or who you talked to everyone was so joy filled and so happy just to be there, and even more joy filled to be Catholic. Even after waiting in long lines for hours surrounded by tired people, everyone was still cheerful about being together celebrating his visit to the states. We don’t always get an opportunity to be surrounded by people who are so happy to be Catholic. I think Pope Francis is bringing some joy back to our Catholic faith!
Emily Klinker
St. Victoria, Victoria

[I learned] you can even find God’s peace in a basketball arena. I handle communications for Minnesota Catholic Conference. Because of the enormity of managing the media during the Pope’s visit, I went to assist the USCCB and Archdiocese of New York communications team. I have been to papal “mega” Masses before and so it was of little consequence for me to be working on the Madison Square Garden media bridge, far above the throng of Mass goers. Yet, once the pre-Mass rosary started and the lights dimmed, the crowd of 20,000 shrunk under my feet. It was a gentle reminder that the peace and holiness of Mass can be found in the most unlikely places.
Jessica Zittlow
St. Agnes, St. Paul

In 1995, I was privileged to shake the hand of St. Pope John Paul II, so I am a “second hand relic.”  In 2008 I was a football field away from Pope Benedict XVI and now I was within 50 feet of Pope Francis. What a fantastic and fortunate journey I have had. God is so good to his people!
Joan McGrath
St. Pius X, White Bear Lake

This was a truly extraordinary series of events! The people of God made the biggest impression on me. Their joy, their dedication and faithfulness to the Church, their pride in their Catholic faith, and their enthusiasm to be in such close proximity to the Vicar of Christ with us was truly inspirational and encouraging! People were sandwiched together, eagerly edging against the fencing barriers in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Holy Father. One family near us had been there waiting since early Saturday morning.

Saturday evening in the Holy Father’s address, he spoke of the family as “the factory of hope, a family of resurrection. Pope Francis acknowledged that there are difficulties in the family. “Sometimes the dishes fly! Sometimes the children give us headaches!” But love can overcome these difficulties. Hatred is not capable of overcoming any difficulty.

I was very grateful that he came. I felt proud to be an active American Catholic and a member of an enormous global Catholic family.
Christine Shannon
St. Charles Borromeo, St. Anthony

It was such a joy to see Pope Francis in person as he drove by in the popemobile, but the moment that made the biggest impression on me was watching on TV his visit to the correctional facility Sunday morning.  He stopped and talked to each inmate and radiated the love of Jesus and the human dignity of each one of them. I could feel them being healed of the wounds that brought them to this place. They had been instructed to stay seated but some just had to stand and hug him and he hugged them back.
Carol Rusinko
Sacred Heart, Robbinsdale

Our group from St. Pius had an amazing, Holy-Spirit led pilgrimage, from its inception nearly a year ago through all the various twists and turns that happened on the way to and from Philadelphia. God asked us to take the next step —often a different step than we were planning to take — but his plan was better than we could have ever imagined.

On the pilgrimage itself, despite all the unexpected turns of events, even adversity, physical pain and fatigue, our pilgrims lived out the fundamental message of Pope Francis: We showed love and kindness to one another in the challenges and joys of life, and grew closer to one another, as well as in faith, hope and love. And, in keeping with the theme of family, it was great to share all this with my parents who joined us on the pilgrimage.
Father Joe Bambenek
Pastor of St. Pius X, White Bear Lake

Seeing Pope Francis in America was a unique experience for me. I have been to Rome several times during my life and there have participated in various papal events, including this past April with the Holy Father. However, it was completely different to see Pope Francis in America. When you go to Rome, there is a certain sense of bringing your own culture with you, and representing your country and people there. However, to welcome the Holy Father here, in my own country, was to show him America; who we are as a people, how we love and how we welcome others.

I found myself wondering what he thought of everything. What did he think of the people, the environment, our cities, infrastructure, even the natural environment? I wanted him to love and appreciate these aspects of American culture as I did. When he spoke about our nation’s history and our ’saints,’ and immersed himself in our problems and issues, I felt that he understood us as a people and wanted us to know that he cared. It was as if Pope Francis became an American for a week.

As a nation we gave Pope Francis our best. The unprecedented pomp and honor of state events, the crowds cheering and shouting as he passed by, the famous entertainers that performed for him, and the beautiful music sung at the papal Masses, all expressed our great appreciation and honor for this man. I realized all this was because we give the best to those whom we love, and we loved Pope Francis. This past week, I found myself very proud to be an American and to welcome Pope Francis to my home.
Christina Skalko
Graduate student, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

Experiencing Pope Francis’ wisdom in person was truly something to behold. The fact that he is able to reach so many people and touch so many lives is astounding. For me, the most memorable part of his visit was watching his homily in silence with nearly a million people, not including TV viewers. Regardless of differing beliefs, people have a respect for him and want to hear what he has to say. The faith community that ties all of us together was reinforced greatly and I have never seen such an overwhelming amount of love and unity in one area.
Micaela Andrews
Junior, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

[I found most memorable] Pope Francis’ final U.S. homily, with the message of “little miracles” not going unnoticed and that they begin in families. I love my family deeply and they’ve guided me through a lot. However, my relationship with them has been tested, especially when I lost my faith. When I regained my faith, my relationship with them grew stronger. Now, I look back on how I get through my struggles today and it is due to my family’s continuous “little miracles” of guidance because they contain unconditional levels of support, love, and forgiveness. Those are the “little miracles” I continuously try to spread to others.
Connor Theisen
Junior, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

On Saturday evening Pope Francis spoke at the Festival of Families. He had a text prepared which he was expected to give, but he did not give that written text. Instead, he spoke completely off-script and from the heart. It was the one time that we got to see Pope Francis fully alive as he truly is: a shepherd and a father. He spoke with such enthusiasm and authenticity that I was drawn in to him and his message for the family. It is that enthusiasm and authenticity that I hope to emulate as a priest some day.
Aric Aamodt
Seminarian, St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul; St. Odilia, Shoreview

I will remember the religious sisters. In line waiting to see St. Maria Goretti’s body, I met some tremendous Carmelite Sisters from Los Angeles, California. One morning, we had Mass with Bishop Cozzens and the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, and we were with or near the Sisters of Life Saturday afternoon onward. If you ever get a chance to talk with a Sister of Life, you will not soon forget it. I watched the way they listened to people. Young, older, male, female: they listened to you as if no one else existed. One was so joyful!
Ben Wittnebel
Seminarian, St. Paul Seminary; St. Joseph, West St. Paul

My biggest impression was experiencing the faith of thousands of teens, children, families, religious and people from all over the world, and talking with them, hearing their stories of travel in order to see Pope Francis.

I will never forget standing shoulder to shoulder —thousands of us — for four to five hours to attend Mass. Many of were late and hundreds never made it through security, yet every one was loving kind and so grateful to just be there.

The message that I took from Pope Francis is to be bold in my faith, to reach out to those marginalized or in the shadows of life, and fulfilling the corporal works of mercy! Pope Francis visit to the U.S. was very spiritually uplifting for me.
Betty Danchertsen
Epiphany, Coon Rapids

Being blessed by Pope Francis at the end of the Mass was the highlight for me. Knowing that he is representing Peter as the keeper of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, it gives me goosebumps just thinking of being in his presence, so what could be better than getting his personal blessing. I had the privilege of being in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI while passing through Rome on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and knew then that I would never miss an opportunity to be in the presence of the pope.
Jack Kuhn
St. Patrick, Oak Grove

[I’ll always remember] speaking with a Protestant couple on the train out of Philly. They had traveled to see the Holy Father because they could tell that there was something special about him. Getting to watch as they realized that Jorge Bergoglio, as great as he is, is just another Christian, but that the pope is the successor to St. Peter — that will always stay with me.
Chris Weber
Seminarian, St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul
Diocese of Davenport

From my experience of traveling to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia for the papal visit, I will always remember the reaction of our country. While the Vicar of Christ was on American soil, everyone took notice and wanted to see him and hear his message for us. Some times we cheered and rushed to catch a glimpse of him, and at other times you could hear a pin drop out of reverence for his office and the sacred moments of liturgy and prayer. Pope Francis’ visit to the United States brought a renewed hope for us and a challenge to live the fullness of the Gospel.
Chad VanHoose
Seminarian, St. Paul Seminary
St. Joseph, West St. Paul

Sometimes in our families or in our work we can become discouraged by situations over which we have no control. Being with our Holy Father brought a real sense of apostolic zeal. Something from my baptism was stirred in my soul by his words and the affectionate reaction of so many people. Many families, priests and religious sacrificed much to be at the papal events and the World Meeting of Families. I will never forget the Holy Father’s challenge to always choose the loving option. That hate, anger and division of hearts cannot solve anything — only love can. He so strongly captured the reality of families: “factories of hope,” the face of the Father in our homes and communities. I will never forget the Holy Father’s fervor for the family and the sacrament of matrimony.
Jean Stolpestad
Director, archdiocese’s Office for Marriage, Family and Life
St. Albert, Albertville

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