September 28, 2016
By Jeanne Marie Hatch, SHCJ
(Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, PA Saturday, September 26, 2015)
I was delighted and grateful to learn I was a winner of one of the nine tickets offered to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus to attend the Papal Mass for priests, religious and friends after the World Meeting of Families.
Bright and early on September 26, actually at 3:45 a.m., three Holy Child Sisters — Anita Quigley, Mary Jane Hicks and I — left Connell House to pick up Helen McDonald, SHCJ, and headed to the parking garage at Villanova University Law School. Villanova had been designated the meeting point for people to be transported by bus to the city.
At that early hour, a line of people had already formed, and it grew longer and longer as we waited two hours for the buses to arrive and load. A line of 30 some buses wound around and down empty routes 476 North and 76 East to the Sheraton Hotel. Approximately 2000 guests swarmed out over the vast lobby area and enjoyed substantial breakfast sandwiches, fruit and beverages. Before many had even arrived on later buses, we followed Anita through the security check- point where we showed our tickets and photo IDs before entering the Cathedral. We were to be seated in the first row of reserved seats after special guests, on the left side of the Cathedral.
After another long wait, we were rewarded before 10:30 a.m. by the appearance of the Holy Father coming up the middle aisle. Pope Francis greeted special children in wheelchairs and then went to the sacristy to vest.
Lo and behold, before we knew it, the entrance procession accompanying Pope Francis came down the aisle right beside us before processing up the middle aisle to begin the Liturgy. Anita was close enough to him for a close-up photo. A glorious choir of children and adults rendered marvelous music for the Mass with full instrumental accompaniment. The singing of the Gloria, Creed and Our Father by the vast crowd of 2000 people was awesome. The thrill of the majestic sounds of voices and instruments still rings in my ears days later. The words of his homily through his faithful translator encouraged, comforted, and challenged his attentive listeners to live the joy of the Gospel among other appropriate themes.
Impossible to describe was the awesome experience of receiving Eucharist at the Holy Father’s Mass. Finally, the image of a humble, prayerful Supreme Pontiff smiling and waving to one and all on his way down the long aisle out of the Cathedral will long be remembered. So present to each one, his eyes meeting theirs; so attentive to each encounter with the other, whoever it may be, defined who this man is for many who observed his every movement. So many people were totally awed to be in the presence of this Holy Man, Pope Francis, a man who seemed to be always aware of God’s presence…
The long, long wait for the buses to take us back to Villanova did not dampen the joy of the experience. All agreed it was worth every minute of waiting. The atmosphere was joyful with sisters, priests and lay people joking around together, greeting old friends among the throng and making new ones as we again waited, reflecting perhaps the joy of presence modeled by Pope Francis during his visit to the Americas.