As Philadelphia pilgrimage begins, Catholics embrace challenge and hope

| September 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
Pilgrims wave after arriving at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Sept. 22. From left, Emily Klinker, Beatriz Lopez, Leila Rodriguez, Maureen Portilla and Jean Stolpestad. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Pilgrims wave after arriving at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Sept. 22. From left, Emily Klinker, Beatriz Lopez, Leila Rodriguez, Maureen Portilla and Jean Stolpestad. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Less than three weeks ago, Justin Duda suffered a shoulder injury during a cross country meet in Green Bay, Wisconsin. A junior at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, he was at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 4 a.m. Sept. 22 navigating his baggage with his right arm in a sling.

“At least I can write,” said Duda, 21, who is right handed.

He expects the injury to be an inconvenience but something that will add to the experience of the pilgrimage he’s making to Philadelphia along with some 20 other men and women from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The group arrived shortly after noon in Philadelphia, four hours before Pope Francis was scheduled to touch down on U.S. soil for the first time near Washington, D.C., following his visit to Cuba.

The pilgrims expect to see the pope on Saturday and Sunday; in the meanwhile, they’ll be attending lectures, workshops and expert panels at the World Meeting of Families. The opening keynote is Bishop Robert Barron, recently ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. More than 15,000 people from around the world are attending the event, held every three years but in the U.S. for the first time.

A parishioner of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, Duda said the pilgrimage is the culmination of several leadership opportunities he’s had in the past year: becoming a student missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS; his selection by peers in the Army Reserve to attend leadership school; and taking the helm of a campus pro-life club. He’s excited to see the pope, but he’s also hoping he can learn from the World Meeting of Families.

“I want to find a way to elevate my peers back at my school to help bring the changes we need to build a more faith-based campus,” he said. “It will help show people that as a generation we need to embrace that family is still the center of our lives and it is vital for us to succeed in the future.”

Pope Francis was the main attraction for Betty Danchertsen, 74, who wanted to go to Philadelphia as soon as she heard he would be in the United States. She’s traveled to Rome before, but has never had the chance to see the Holy Father.

“He’s the head of the Church, the successor of Peter, chosen by God,” said Danchertsen, a parishioner of Epiphany, Coon Rapids.

“Maybe I’ll become better in my prayer life and service,” she added, pointing to inspiration from a recent radio interview with Minneapolis’ Sharing and Caring Hands founder Mary Jo Copeland, who emphasized prayer, service, love and forgiveness.

Father Kevin Kenney, pastor of Divine Mercy in Faribault and Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, is serving as the pilgrimage chaplain. He’s hoping to gain pastoral insight into challenging family issues facing Catholics, including divorce and annulment, he said. He also brings the perspective of serving Latino families, who relate in a special way with Pope Francis, who is from Argentina.

The pilgrims are attending the World Meeting of Families “to encourage and be encouraged, and listen to families from around the world talking about different topics and how we are as a family, and I know that’s really important to Pope Francis,” Father Kenney said. “When he gets here this weekend and we’re able to spend time with him, [the hope is] that we’re open to listening to him and he’s open to listening to us and the results of this world conference.”

Father Kenney said he hopes to be able to concelebrate with Pope Francis at the World Meeting’s closing Mass Sept. 27.

Prayer and open hearts and minds are key for pilgrims making their time in the City of Brotherly Love a spiritual experience, Father Kenney said, but expects the trip’s impact to reverberate far beyond those present for the events. He anticipates the pope’s trip will be a source of hope and mercy for Catholics in the U.S.

“The recent talks that he’s given about the issue of divorce and annulment have really given a lot of hope to people — to see that we value everyone. Mistakes are made. As we enter into the Year of Mercy, [it’s important] to be able to bring mercy and forgiveness and move forward. The hope is that as a Church we can move forward, especially in the archdiocese right now. That we can have a sense of hope and keep moving forward and not let the things in the past hold us back.”

He added that Catholics who are tracking the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ trip from their home may have better seats than pilgrims actually present at the events. They’ll have to sift through commentary, he said, and he hopes Catholics pray for the pope’s and pilgrims’ safety.

“Hopefully,” he said, “they’ll hear the same words we do — words of hope, words of encouragement and words of being faithful.”

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