READY AND WAITING -- Pilgrims on the bus from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, wait with anticipation for their chance to get close to the Holy Father in Philadelphia. Mary Stadnyk photo
READY AND WAITING -- Pilgrims on the bus from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, wait with anticipation for their chance to get close to the Holy Father in Philadelphia. Mary Stadnyk photo

By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor, Brittany Wilson, Diocesan Social Media Coordinator and David Karas, Correspondent

Throughout Philadelphia, and along the Francis Festival grounds, crowds gathered Sept. 27 around Jumbotrons to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father making his way to the site of his 4 p.m. Mass officially closing the World Meeting of Families.

There was a noticeable calm among those watching the screens as he passed through the city, with brief moments of laughter and applause, mainly when he would pause to greet and kiss a baby or child.

Among the joyful throngs greeting Pope Francis in the “city of brotherly love and sisterly affection” were hundreds of faithful of the Diocese of Trenton, eager to experience the “Francis Effect” for themselves.

Joe and Kathie Patto, members of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, chatted with friends and fellow pilgrims on their Philadelphia-bound bus about the coverage of the papal visit so far.

“It’s just amazing to me,” Kathie told The Monitor, noting that many aspects of the Pope’s visit had touched her. “One of the things that really moved me was his visit to the Sept. 11 memorial.” Both Kathie and Joe said they were looking forward to experiencing his visit in person.

Pilgrims adorned in shirts representing youth groups, parishes and schools flooded toward transit stations as they made their way to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the late afternoon Mass. Aboard the subway, phrases like “we are off to see the Pope” and questions like “what parish are you from” filled the train cars.

The streets of Philadelphia were packed not only with pilgrims, but also with smiles and shouts of joy. Along Spring Garden Street, many pilgrims could be found taking a break along the roadway; from time to time, cheers would erupt from groups recognizing others from their home states or countries.

Besides trains, to move the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from their home towns to the heart of the city, buses bearing license plates and signs from as far away as Canada filed into Philadelphia parking areas, passing by billboards and signs marking the Holy Father’s visit.

Aboard the bus from Maple Shade was Elaine Jackson, a member of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. She was inspired to join the pilgrimage by her daughter, who flew in from California to join her mother and sister for the experience.

Jackson, reflecting on what she has seen of the papal visit through news coverage, said she was struck by Pope Francis’s love and the peace he has brought on his various stops.

Father Cesar Tolentino, adjunct priest in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, fondly recalled going on his first papal pilgrimage to a World Youth Day in the Philippines, and was looking forward to concelebrating the Mass with Pope Francis in Philadelphia. He proudly wore a baseball cap with St. John Paul II, a souvenir of the WYD experience.

A contingent of journalism students from Rider University, Lawrenceville, saw their journey to hiladelphia as an opportunity to hone their reporting skills by covering a major event such as the papal Mass. For several of the students, the day held special meaning to participate in a religious experience of tremendous magnitude.

Mary-Lynn Buckley of Staten Island, N.Y., siad she regards Francis as a "unique pope" and appreciates how he embraces all people -- no matter what their faith.

"That's important for college students to hear," she said. She added that she is impressed with the Pope's interest in the environment, a topic which she is passionate about.

Emily Kelley of Sicklerville said that although she is Methodist, she wanted to experience the papal Mass and see how people of other faith traditions worship.

Thomas Simonet, professor of journalism at Rider University, Lawrenceville, brought students to Philadelphia for the Papal Mass.

“I think (Pope Francis) is a very important figure in the world today,” he said, adding that his advocacy for peace and social justice place him in the company of figures as prominent as Martin Luther King, Jr. He said his students were working to cover the Mass as journalists, seeking in particular the perspectives of fellow college‐aged young men and women.

One of his students, senior Claire Dalzon, said that while she is not Catholic, she recognizes the impact that the Pope is having at the global level. “I cannot deny Pope Francis as a world leader,” she said. She added that she had observed Catholics in attendance were so happy to be able to make the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. Many shared with her that they considered the journey and pilgrimage as a component of exercising and living their faith.

Nicole Callahan stood in line at 20th Street for more than three hours Sunday to witness Pope Francis celebrating Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

She was travelling with a group of family members from Flourtown, Pa., which is a suburb about 15 miles outside Philadelphia. Callahan is originally from Howell, and was a member of St. Veronica Parish for many years. She was married in the parish in 2004.

“My family is very religious,” Callahan wrote on a small, reporter’s notepad because of difficulties speaking caused by a jaw condition. “I have two children who I had difficulties having, and now that my jaw is wired shut, I wanted to experience this love. I hope to be blessed by all the families who are gathered together.”

Callahan also wrote that there was no way she was going to miss the experience of being in the presence of the Holy Father.

“My uncle is a priest in Philadelphia,” she wrote. “Being part of a family of faith my whole life, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

For some, travelling to Philadelphia to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis was bittersweet.

Mary Sobon, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Brant Beach, was thinking about her late husband who died earlier this year.

“He would have been here with me if he was still alive. It’s hard today,” she said. “But I’m having a great time with my three girlfriends who are here with me.”

Sobon arrived in Philadelphia on a bus trip sponsored by her parish with friends Pam Wilson of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, and Margery Lukens and Anna Rackison of Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, Florence Township.

“I’m pleased to be here, I’m humbled. I have my tissues ready,” Sobon said while standing on a chair to get the best possible view of Pope Francis. “This is the first time in my 66 years that I’m going to see a Pope.

“He is just wonderful. He blows me away when he stops his motorcade and kisses the children. I start to cry, I get very emotional. I’m probably going to fall of this chair here as he goes by.”

As Pope Francis passed by the cheering crowd at 20th Street, Sobon was among the loudest of the faithful, but it was excitement, not tears that was visible on her face.

“I’m surprised I didn’t cry,” she said.

Dan Duddy, a parishioner of St. Joseph, Toms River, and a teacher and leader of the Catholic Athletes for Christ program in Donovan Catholic High School, was struck most by Pope Francis’ message during his homily.

“The Pope’s emphasis on the family is so fundamentally said. Such simple terms make the words so much more powerful,” Duddy said. “It also showed to us, everyone in attendance, how pleasing the family is to our Lord, and how we need to resurrect it and get after it.

“Everything is in the family, it’s the sanctity of life, respect for each other, honoring mother and father and taking care of the individual selves – of the body, the Body of Christ.”

He compared Pope Francis to another well-known person with the same name.

“Pope Francis is a lot like St. Francis himself, in that he was so known for saying the most profound things in the simplest terms.”

Duddy also was moved by the volume of people at Mass — an estimated 1.5 million people stood for hours on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to celebrate with the Holy Father.

“I liked seeing all those Catholics come together from all over the place and celebrate the same Mass that we all do all over the world. It’s just a wonderful faith and a wonderful Church and (Pope Francis is) such a charismatic leader.”

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Maple Shade, parishioners, Jimmy and Cyndi Baselice and their daughter, Tori, bubbled over with enthusiasm about attending the Mass with Pope Francis. Though they were positioned at 19th and Locust Streets and watched the Mass on the Jumbtron, they were riding high about their day’s experience.

Cyndi said she had been tuning into papal coverage "constantly" throughout the week, she was especially taken with the Holy Father's message to the bishops

"He doesn't pull any punches," she said. "He is very honest about what he likes and does not like about the Church."

As Cyndi reflected on how heartened she was to see people from all over the world converge on the Ben Franklin Parkway and indeed, the City of Brotherly love, she said, "I think this shows that people do care, they care that they are part of a family, the Catholic Church famil,y and they are proud of it."