Before we left, I kept an eye on the weather all week. At one point they were even saying an 80% chance of rain on Sunday in Philadelphia. By Thursday it was 20% and when we were driving there on Friday, both Saturday and Sunday had a 0% chance of rain. But it was windy.Like it was when I watched the video of him getting of the plane in DC and the Cardinals couldn’t even keep their beanies on.
So it appears that Pope Francis cleared up the rain and brought the wind–which makes sense, seeing how wind is a symbol for the Holy Spirit.
Now, on to our personal journey.
We had no idea what to expect. In fact, on Monday, I had a bit of a panic attack. I’ll just go ahead and say honestly that my son has been playing some great football, had just secured his place as starting quarterback (which until the week before we left he had been competing for with another kid) and as it turned out, the weekend we were to see the Pope, turned out to be the biggest game of the season–his undefeated team, facing the hardest team they’ve played all year. We weren’t sure if his coaches would be understanding or how it would hurt his football season.
Besides, my husband had been slightly reluctant from the start and we added on many things like the fact that our car died and we needed to find another and that the following weekend was my grandmother’s memorial service that I had been helping to plan . . .So that Monday evening, I had told my son’s head coach after practice. And I was trying to explain, he was like, “I have to catch the other coach. Our whole offense is built around him [my son].” And I was driving away, I felt a moment of panic. Omigosh, what if this wasn’t worth it?
Like I said, we had no idea what to expect but we knew we needed to count on a bunch of walking, waiting and standing.
And we had no tickets, no train tickets, no tickets to get in a 2 1/2 block radius on the Pope. We were completely winging it. I don’t mind winging it–we are that kind of people–but what if in the end, my family didn’t think it was worth it?
But I had prayed and prayed about whether we should go. In some senses, with everything going on, I just kept wondering if it made sense. But I just kept feeling like we should. My husband felt it too. Everyone I told was so excited for us. My pastor even hugged me when I told him. So I knew–and my husband knew–that we needed to go.
Our start on Friday was slow–my husband had been working all week and this was the first chance he had to get tires on our van which we desperately needed. We left close to noon and arrived at our hotel in King of Prussia (40 minutes outside of Philly) about 9ish at night. We packed up our back packs for the next day. We all had UnderArmour packs within the size limit and we filled them with water, a notebook, and snacks (except for the little ones who had animal leashes–never done leashes before but felt nervous with the predicted size of the crowd).
Before we left another family we knew that was going had posted on facebook about how things went smoothly when you followed God’s will. So far, I hadn’t felt that way. And truthfully, I felt a little discouraged to see her post, because I felt we were following God’s will too. But between the stress of all else happening and our late start, it just didn’t feel smooth.
But Saturday morning. I got a phone call from another family we knew that was there. They had extra train tickets–just the right amount for our family. Did I want them? Absolutely. One big problem just solved and I began to get excited for whatever the adventure turned out to be. Things finally began to come together. In fact, boarding the train turned out to be quite easy. The place we drove to to pick up the tickets was the train station–the train station with plenty of parking and no huge crowd. We waited a very short time to board the train.
The kids loved riding the train. A man who was involved with the Festival of Families handed out prayer cards and drawings of the Pope to the kids. We prayed the prayer and a decade of the Rosary and just enjoyed watching everything move by fast!
We got off the train. Now two things were obvious. There were plenty of people helping you get to the right direction and there was plenty of security. Of course, what we saw initially was only the tip of the iceberg on that front. And so we followed the crowds and began walking. We crossed the bridge. We saw all the merchandise for sale and debated over what to get. We stoppped to buy some flags.
“Look mom, it’s the Metzlers!” Our best friends who had also made the trip had just got across the bridge as well. In a place with a million people, it was kind of amazing that we had managed to run into them right off the train!
So with our new flags, and our old friends, we began to walk. We were told the walk would be about a mile and a half but it really didn’t feel hard. We parted ways with our friends, as she had to go pick up a volunteer shirt, and we had no plan as I said before.
So we walked along until we ran into a fence.
“You know,” I said to my husband, “this looks like the fence I had seen on someone’s blog where they waited for the Pope-mobile to come through.” We asked someone with a volunteer shirt what the fence was for.
“We think the Pope is going to come through here after he says Mass,” she told us. We could see him saying Mass on the Jumbo tron. This is great, we thought. We were just one row back from the fence. So we waited. We watched Mass finish up. We waited a little more. Then, a police man who was standing guard on the other side of the fence (along with many other police) came over and as the people in front of us asked him a few questions, we heard him say, “Oh no, the Pope isn’t coming through here now. He isn’t coming through here until 5 or 6.”
It was 11:45 am.
The woman next to us had two middle-sized kids and said there was no way her kids could wait. In fact, except for the row of people standing right up on the fence. The crowd thinned out quite considerably.. I looked at my husband and said, “We can’t leave! Look how close we are.” We agreed to try and wait it out.
Actually with the room to move around, it wasn’t too bad. The kids ate snacks from our bag and drew and wrote in their notebooks:
The toddler chased birds (which has long been one of his favorite past times):
Then he took a nap:
Then the four year old took a nap:
We said a couple deckets of the Rosary:
We got an authentic Philly Cheese Steak from a restaurant who had someone walking around delivering orders. We got smoothies from Dunkin Donuts which was on the corner of the street we were standing in. We took turns taking kids to the port o potties. We all watched the jumbo tron performances. When Matt Maher sang, the whole crowd sang along. It was pretty inspiring actually.
At some point a group of people from Texas came up beside us with an elderly lady in a wheel chair. They asked if she could squeeze in with us. She was their grandma and they wanted to make sure she got a view of the Pope. So she got out of her wheelchair and stood up beside us and the rest of them were able to stand kind of next to us and kind of behind us.
As it got to be closer to 5, crowds began to gather. Up until this time, we had had plenty of space to move around but now the crowds began to press in. The Texas women offered us the wheel chair for our kids to sit in when they got tired of standing. We made sure that whenever the grandma wanted to sit, she was able to do so!
There was a lot going on on the street so there were many moments when we thought he might be coming. There were several lines of motorcades, big buses (one was full of cardinals), police motorcycles and police cars and golf carts going up and down this closed off street. At one point we even saw the Pope mobile go by and the back of a truck. (but no Pope in it)!
The police lined up straight. Someone from the Secret Service pushed his way through the crowd. The DEA and CSI (why?) walked by on the street. The kids started to say their feet hurt. All of of our feet hurt. The crowd made it so we couldn’t really sit down now. It got dark and a little chillier. In fact, I saw the young photographer that had been standing in the front the whole time, put his arm around the grandma to try to warm her up.
The excitement in the crowd was growing. As 6 came and went, we really felt it could be any minute now! As we heard flutters going up and down, we tried to position everyone so they could see. My middle son was practically in tears because he couldn’t see. The very tall man behind us offered to put him on his shoulders. They family with the wheelchair said they could lock the wheels and he could stand on that. He was hesitant at first, but finally accepted that offer. The people behind and my husband asked if I could see. I said I couldn’t see all that well but that was okay. The couple behind us insisted on moving us around until I could see. “You’ve been waiting this whole time,” they told us. “You should see!”
In position now, the wait went on. At a little after 7, the noise of the crowd told us it was no false alarm this time. With me videoing, my taller husband taking pictures, my one son standing on the wheelchair, my four year old down on the ground peering out through the fence, my two older kids standing, and my toddler on my husband shoulders, we all got a clear view as the Pope drove by waving on the Pope mobile. Then he turned around and came back and drove by us once again.
The moment we had waited all day for was over. And we felt . . .elated. There really is no way to describe what it is like to be in such close proximity to somebody so amazingly holy and close to God, but I think my 9 year old described it well when as we walked away, he said, “I feel like I just came out of confession 6 times!”
We stopped to change a diaper and put on the baby’s pajamas and again to buy a t-shirt. We stopped once more to give a few bucks to a young homeless man on the streets who thanked me profusely and told me I was a good person and was teaching my kids good things. We were exhausted and pretty hungry so we didn’t entertain doing anything else that night although originally I think we had intended to get as close as we could to the closing celebration of the Festival of the Families. There was a long line to get back on the train, but they had a couple trains going at once so we only waited for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Still, by the time we got back to the hotel and got our pizza, it was about 10.
But it had been a beautiful day.
The next day was Sunday, the Papal Mass. Although we had debated about it a bit, because doing so would put us back home in Ohio quite late, I knew there was no way I could live with missing the Papal Mass when we were able to go. And so, we planned to once again, take the train and take the walk and see how close we could get to the Mass.
But that’s not how the day ended up going.
As we packed up to check out of the hotel, my four year old reached out to stop the hotel door from closing and got her pinky stuck in the hotel door. Now, if you’ve ever been to a hotel, you know how heavy those doors are. But God is merciful. I was not standing out in the hall with her when this happened but my husband was. My husband is a Physician Assistant and he scooped her up, brought her in the hotel room and had her hand wrapped in a wash cloth before I ever saw it. And for that I am so thankful. I think I would have freaked out. He was very, very calm (as is his nature) and comforting to her. I asked him what we needed to do and he told me we had to go the Emergency room. I started to cry which wasn’t the best because it upset little Therese who was crying but not freaking out. My husband comforted me too and took Therese to get directions to the hospital. I sprung the kids into action to finish packing get the car loaded.
My husband sat in the back next to Therese while I followed my phone’s directions to the hospital without any freeways because the freeways were closed due to the Pope’s visit. On the way there, I almost laughed out loud as it occurred to me that although my husband was amazingly calm, the fact that he even reacted was a tip off to me that something was wrong. Usually, when the kids get hurt or cry, he doesn’t even move a muscle.
At the ER, I finally asked my husband the question I had been afraid to but had certainly crossed my mind. Was she going to lose any of her finger? He said she could possibly lose the tip but he had saved fingers that looked worse than that. I prayed we didn’t have someone less skilled than him working on her.
But again, God is good. Her finger was miracously not broken at all. With my husband overseeing, they were able to suture it back together and I really didn’t have to get a good look at it until it looked kind of like a finger again.
It was after 1 pm when we left the ER. As I saw the time ticking away at the hospital, and knowing our train tickets were only good until noon, I had called the train station and asked them if there was anything we could do. But there wasn’t. There were no trains running after noon and no other way (minus walking several miles) to get into the city. We even drove to the train station when we left just to see if something could be done. But the roads to the train station were even closed down.
We headed home.
I’m not going to lie–it took me a while to get over it. I had to trust God that it was for the best although it was certainly one of those circumstances where it seemed impossible to see how it could be. But God knows why we couldn’t go the Papal Mass that day. And that has to be enough. I did hear it was taking up to 4 hours to get through the security checks and that some people didn’t even get through in time to get to most of the Mass.
By the time we hit the trains station, it was almost 2. Even if we had found a way, we most likely wouldn’t have made it at that point.
On the surface, our trip doesn’t look like much. Walking and waiting in one place for over seven hours just to get a glimpse of the Pope as he drove by?
Was it worth missing my son’s football game for?
Was it worth all the money we spent?
Was it worth the ache in our feet and back?
Was it worth the kids missing two days of school and getting swamped with homework?
I can say without hesitation and without any doubt that it was incredibly worth it. Ask any member of my family and they will all tell you without hesitation and without any doubt that it was so worth it. I can’t remember the last time we did anything where all seven members of my family felt that way. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much, but it was amazing. Here is where words fail me. Because being in a crowd of people who were so on fire and being in the presence of the Pope, can only be described as a mountain top experience–like when Moses would come off the mountain from talking with God and his face would be glowing or like when the Apostles were on the mountain top with Jesus at the transfiguration and they wanted to stay there. “Master, it is good that we are here.”
His holiness, his dedication to service, his mercy–it radiates, it spreads–it’s palpable.
It leaves you transfigured and speechless.
Philadelphia 2015. We were there!