Seeing the Pope in Philly

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Pope Francis

Seeing the Pope in Philly by Courtney Barnes

In August, I began my job as the new director of campus ministry at University Catholic in Nashville, TN. My first day in the office I looked at the calendar and remarked that the pope would be coming to America in a little over a month. Would it be possible to mobilize a pilgrimage to see the pope in a month?

I proposed the idea to our chaplain Fr. Baker. University Catholic had already begun to make plans for a trip but it got lost in the job transition. Yet he would be happy for me to explore the possibility. And in fact, he even had a priest friend in Philadelphia who serves Temple University’s Newman Center. Maybe we could stay with them.

And then the Holy Spirit took control. There were flights on Southwest from Nashville to Philadelphia for $200 round trip and Temple University graciously offered to house us even though they were already full.

University Catholic students

I wanted the young adults at University Catholic to experience that first encounter with their pope. My first encounter with a pope was when I was a sophomore at Notre Dame and I attended the 2004 Easter Vigil in Rome celebrated by St. John Paul II. Now I can say that I have not only been in the presence of a pope, but a saint as well.

So what is the big deal about the pope?

You have to experience the presence of the pope to more fully understand that he is not just some old man in Rome, but a spiritual father and truly Christ in our midst.

Papal Mass in Philadelphia

Our group arrived in Philly and stood in line for hours, just to see Pope Francis drive by on Ben Franklin Pkwy. As the crowds pressed us against each other, the same scene from the Gospel came to mind. 2000 years ago the crowds gathered in the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem, just to catch a glimpse of Jesus, just to touch his cloak. There is a reason why our Protestant brethren do not gather from all over the world to see their leaders. This is not just a leader of a religion. For us, this is the Vicar of Christ.

Although the trip in and of itself was a miracle, an even bigger miracle occurred during the mass for the World Meeting of Families. Our group did not have tickets to attend the mass in close proximity. Nonetheless we woke up early, as true pilgrims, and stood in line to see how close we could get. After waiting from 8am until about 2pm for the 4pm mass, a police officer came to our section and announced that they would let as many additional people as they could into the ticketed area of the mass. Again we pressed into the crowd and made our way onto Ben Franklin Pkwy. Now the altar we could only previously see from the jumboTron came into sight.

Eucharist at Papal Mass in Philadelphia

And from this vantage point, not only did we see the pope pass by, even closer this time, but during holy communion we witnessed the beautiful procession of white and yellow umbrellas, reminiscent of the Vatican flag, accompanying each priest, both signifying and protecting the real presence of our King.

What is the big deal about the pope? He is the Guardian of the Fullness of the Faith, the Servant of the Servants of God, the Successor of Peter, but most of all, he is the Vicar of Christ a direct representative of our Lord and Savior, and we were grateful to be with him that day.

Courtney Barnes, is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a former Dominican sister. She is the director of Campus Ministry at University Catholic in Nashville, Tennessee.