Pope encounter quick but powerful for Minnesota pilgrims

| September 27, 2015 | 1 Comment
Pope Francis waves to crowds along Benjamin Franklin Parkway as he arrives for the Festival of Families for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. CNS

Pope Francis waves to crowds along Benjamin Franklin Parkway as he arrives for the Festival of Families for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. CNS

“It went really fast.”

That’s how Ingrid Sterud described her glimpse of Pope Francis as he joined the Festival of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. She had a good spot along the a barrier lining the street, she said. People screamed as the pontiff approached, and then he came into view.

But, as soon as Sterud, 42, could see him, he turned to wave to the other side of the street.

It wasn’t ideal, but she wasn’t disappointed. Communications coordinator of the archdiocese’s Office of Latino Ministry, Sterud said she’s looking forward to seeing him again at Mass Sunday evening — her second chance to encounter Pope Francis during his whirlwind tour of the United States.

The sense that the chance to see the Holy Father up close was all too fleeting was prevalent among pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and not just because many wish they could hold onto the moment forever. Pope Francis’ vehicle drove faster down the street than they expected, making it difficult to both relish the moment and get a coveted photo of the pontiff as he clipped along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It didn’t seem to diminish the excitement, however. Pilgrims from the archdiocese arrived mid-afternoon to the Festival of Families, an entertainment-filled afternoon and evening that culminated in the arrival of the Holy Father, performances in his presence, presentations from families around the world, and a papal address.

Fellow audience members began arriving at dawn, eager to stake out good places to view Pope Francis along the parade route from Independence Hall, where he spoke at 4:45 p.m.

Michele Skeim, a parishioner of Christ our Light in Zimmerman and Princeton, called seeing Pope Francis a “soul-moving experience.”

“The masses of people being so moved by the pope, and [him being] . . . ‘the vicar of Christ’; that just really rang with me,” she said. “You’re so close — it’s just a touch of heaven.”

A musician with a background in liturgy, Skeim said the variety of performances resonated with her, especially Andrea Bocelli singing the Our Father following the Holy Father’s address.

“It’s praying together,” said Skeim, 44, a mother of two.

Justin Duda, whose right arm is in a sling from a sports injury, had joked ahead of seeing Pope Francis that he would try to jump the barrier for a blessing for his arm. While waiting for the pope to pass by, he was sobered by an event volunteer with a child with cancer and a 13-year-old from Peru with a handwritten letter for Pope Francis, he said. Neither was able to interact with the pontiff as he headed to the stage.

For Duda, a student at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and a FOCUS missionary, seeing the pope was enough. “My first thought was, I can’t believe I’m here,” he said. The Festival of Families, too, was beyond his expectations. “It makes me feel like I can do my work as a missionary more and more, and it’s arming me with the tools and spirits and courage to go out and do my work.”

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  • Debbie Koop

    Fr. Evan Koop captured this photo from his video as the Pope raced by. It was exciting for all 13 members of the Koop family. Debbie Koop