While millions of Muslims journeyed to Mecca for their annual pilgrimage, American Catholics also had the chance for their own religious excursion this year. Last week, multitudes of people from across the country traveled to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia to try to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis on his U.S tour.
I was one of them. No, I’m not Catholic. I’m Baptist, to be exact. But if your teacher offered you a free ticket and credit for a journalism assignment, wouldn’t you say yes, too?
So, on Sunday, around 7 a.m., I joined my 11 Rider companions on the school bus taking us to Woodbourne Station where we would catch the train to Philadelphia. Despite the chilly early weekend morning, my classmates all seemed ready for the outing.
Once we arrived, I instantly started noticing the weird atmosphere that would linger for most of the day. We were promised packed train cars and congested roads, but in the city with a population of 1.5 million, we moved around easily on nearly empty streets. For about three hours before the main event, the Papal Mass for the World Meeting of Families, we walked toward Independence Hall, passing occasional families donning “I LOVE Pope Francis” gear and numerous vendors selling everything from “Pope 2015” pins to sanctified rosary beads.
For a while, our pack felt like the only young adults present for this special day. Spotting a person from mid-teens to 30 was rare. Later, when I got to interview a student from a Catholic high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, he shared his thoughts on the lack of millennials, saying, “It’s true that not a lot of young people are concerned. Most people’s faith is not a priority at this age…It’s unfortunate.”
At 2 p.m., miracles happened: the skies opened up, giving us much-needed sunlight. And we were finally greeted by the Catholic army we were looking for. Directed by traffic cops, we marched with thousands of people to the areas closest to the pope. People from all around the world raised their country flags, sang spiritual songs and told their testimonies to strangers. For the first time that day, I didn’t feel like just an observer. Whenever the crowd started shouting or broke into song, I tried to join, too. There was a sense of community and mutual joy in the area that everybody shared. I was captivated.
Small groups against Catholicism and Pope Francis were also in attendance. They were equipped with microphones loud enough to shout their anti-Christ messages to visitors passing by. “You’re going to Hell” and “Pope Francis is a deceiver” were among the phrases hurled. A group of young people marched by, chanting to the protesters, “Jesus loves you!” It was interesting to watch: Two groups of people who claim to serve the same God arguing over the right truth. That’s religion in a nutshell.
By the end of the day, our group agreed to be content with watching the final Mass on a Jumbotron at 19th and Spring Garden. We oohed and ahhed with the company around us as Pope Francis leaned from his white Popemobile and kissed babies on the forehead. I remember a moment of silence during a scripture reading where I took the opportunity to look around at everyone latching on to each word coming out of the pope’s mouth. I thought, wow, Pope Francis truly is his reputation: the people’s pope.
Senior journalism major
Printed in the 09/30/15 issue.