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Members of archdiocese celebrate, share memories of papal visit

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Left, Pope Francis parades through Philadelphia in the "Pope-mobile." Right, pilgrims from St. Ignatius joyfully await the pope's arrival. (Courtesy Photos)
Left, Pope Francis parades through Philadelphia in the “Pope-mobile.” Right, pilgrims from St. Ignatius joyfully await the pope’s arrival. (Courtesy Photos)

By Eileen Connelly, OSU
The Catholic Telegraph

Fifty-four seminarians, along with Father Benedict O’Cinnsealaigh, president and rector, and Father Tom McQuillen, dean of men, boarded a bus Sept. 22 and traveled through the night to Washington, D.C. The next day, the group will attended Mass celebrated by Pope Francis as he canonized Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Father O’Cinnsealaigh was also invited to be present when the Holy Father briefly addressed well wishers following his address to Congress.

The seminarians were among many representatives of the archdiocese who participated in the events surrounding Pope Francis first visit to the United States in September.

As the sun rose on Philadelphia Sept. 27, dozens of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati arrived on several buses that departed from the Pilarczyk Center in Dayton the night before for the trip of a lifetime — to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis and take part in the Papal Mass that brought the 2015 World Meeting of Families to a close. Their trip was sponsored by the archdiocesan Family and Respect Life Office.

For Cynthia Hummer and her friend, Renate Alui, the journey began at Corpus Christi Parish in New Burlington, where travelers boarded two smaller vans to Dayton. The women were excited as they departed the parking lot after a blessing by Franciscan Father Jeff Scheeler, who had just celebrated the Saturday evening Mass.

“This trip is a retirement gift from my children,” explained Hummer, a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish.

The buses traveled through the night to “the city of brotherly love,” leaving the pilgrims exhausted, but excited about the day’s events. Among them was a group from parishes in Brown County, all wearing brightly colored T-shirts that read, “Vivas Papa Francis.”  It was an extra special occasion for Angel Waits, who was celebrating her 18th birthday on the same day she would be seeing Pope Francis. Waits made the trip with her mother, Sue, music minister at St. Mary Parish in Arnheim and St. George Parish in Georgetown.

“It was a day full of blessings, made even more special because Angel and I could experience it together,” Sue Waits said.

Joining throngs of other pilgrims, the travelers, representing parishes from throughout the archdiocese, made their way through the crowded streets of Philadelphia and security checkpoints before securing vantage points along Ben Franklin Parkway where they eagerly awaited the Holy Father’s arrival. While they waited, the pilgrims prayed, laughed, chatted and shopped for souvenirs, including rosaries and other commemorative items. Jumbotrons throughout the city enabled them to keep track of the pope’s every move.

When Pope Francis appeared in the “Popemobile,” he was greeted with cheers and shouts of excitement as he smiled and waved to the faithful crowd. The atmosphere became one of prayer and reverence as the 4 p.m. Mass began. The diverse crowd of pilgrims, representing various nationalities and age groups, joined together in worship, led by their beloved pontiff, who spoke of the importance of family and treating one another with kindness during his homily. At Communion, they sang together the familiar words of “You Satisfy a Hungry Heart” and “Taste and See.”

At the closing of the Mass, Pope Francis announced that the next World Meeting of Families would be held in 2018 in Dublin, Ireland, prompting responses from many of the pilgrims of their plans to attend.

Reflecting on the experience after returning to Cincinnati, Hummer said, “I’m so grateful to have been there, to see our Holy Father, to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was incredible just to be around Pope Francis’ goodness.”

Sidney Streck, a sophomore at Carroll High School, was one of 32 students, along with 15 other members of the school community to make the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. The experience “really helped me grow in my faith Streck said, noting that the pope’s words “really reminded me how important it is to be there for one another, all our brothers and sisters, helping them grow in their faith, and in turn, they help us grow.”

Jennifer Mertens, a religion teacher at St. Ursula Academy, made the trip with the father, Thomas. “For my dad and I, the energy of it, the universality of the church, is what really came through,” she said. “It was a very joyful experience. I think Pope Francis just inspires people. He offers a message of faith and hope that our church and the world community needs to hear and he does it in a way that’s refreshing.”

Fifty-three students from St. Monica St. George Parish Newman Center, accompanied by campus ministers Michael Schreiner and Congregation of Divine Providence Sister Leslie Keener, made the trip to Philadelphia.

“The entire trip was an adventure, yet the Mass was the main highlight,” said Samantha Brock, a third year biology major at the University of Cincinnati. “One moment that really struck me was the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. Watching over a million people of God join hands and sing the same prayer was so moving. It’s incredible to me that the pope, just one humble man, could unite so many in faith.”

“I still can not believe that I saw with my own eyes a man who is respected by so many — Catholic, atheist, and everyone in between,” added Monica Hemmelgarn, a second year nursing student. “This trip opened my eyes to a deeper meaning of who the pope is, and how much of an impact he has on everyone around the world. It has made me love being Catholic so much more, and I will hold this awesome memory forever in my heart.”

Young members of the archdiocese also found ways to participate in the papal visit. At St. Gertrude School in Madeira, one of the second graders, dressed as Pope Francis visited the classrooms, blessing the students and reiterating the pope’s challenge to end world hunger by 2025. When asked how the students could help, he suggested they bring canned goods to St. Gertrude’s Popepalooza, a joyous Friday night festival featuring an outdoor movie and attended by family, friends and faculty members The students also heard about the papal visit firsthand from Dominican Sister Mary Aquinas, St. Gertrude principal, Sister Marie Noelle, who teaches second grade and Sister Immaculata Marie, a fourth grade teacher, who traveled to Philadelphia.

The students of St. Ignatius School in Monfort Heights welcomed Pope Francis to the United States with a POPEsicle, receiving red, white and blue popsicles. They also wrote down prayer intentions for the Holy Father and prayed with both their families and their classmates. In addition, more than 60 members of the St. Ignatius faculty and staff traveled to Philadelphia to take part in the Papal Mass.

Tim Reilly, principal said, “We wanted to celebrate with our students before making our pilgrimage, not only to signify the importance of the event, but to demonstrate that it is a joyous occasion for all of us!”

“It was a trip that touched every heart,” said Lynn Thesing. “I know my own faith multiplied in a day just from singing hymns, going to Mass, and receiving Communion with almost a million people. It was an impactful day that everyone who attended will always remember.”

Days earlier, Pope Francis address to congress was broadcast on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square.

This feature originally appeared in the November 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click HERE.

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