Lunch at the Museum • Priests from the Diocese of Trenton, including Father Daniel Swift of St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford and Father Peter James Alindogan of St. Charles Borromeo in Cinnaminson, joined hundreds of brothers priests to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father and enjoyed lunch, below, on the main staircase of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before the Mass.  Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Swift

Lunch at the Museum • Priests from the Diocese of Trenton, including Father Daniel Swift of St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford and Father Peter James Alindogan of St. Charles Borromeo in Cinnaminson, joined hundreds of brothers priests to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father and enjoyed lunch, below, on the main staircase of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before the Mass.  Photo courtesy of Father Daniel Swift

By Patrick T. Brown | Associate Editor

It was one of the largest open-air Masses in the history of the United States. For a handful of priests from the Diocese of Trenton who concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father, the immense scale – and the personal encounters – will be memories of a lifetime.

“It was incredible,” said Father Daniel Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford. “During the Mass, from where we were, we couldn’t see the crowds…because there were two media walls on both sides for the filming.”

But when the time came to distribute Holy Communion on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, “that reduced me to tears. To see all these priests that are going out into the congregation…it was very moving.”

Concelebrating Mass with Pope Francis required braving long security lines and potential logistical nightmares to serve the hundreds of thousands packed onto the parkway. Upwards of 300,000 Communion hosts were distributed during the Mass.

But Father Peter James Alindogan, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, said that the crowds in Philadelphia were far from hectic or over-excited about the Pope’s celebrity status. For so many on the parkway, they had come to celebrate Mass with the Vicar of Christ, and the focus was on the Eucharist.

“The crowds in each city had its own feeling,” said Father Alindogan. “I found the atmosphere in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia experience, was more peaceful, more calm and serene than in Washington or New York City.”

“When they asked for a moment of silence after Communion, it was silent,” he said. “When I felt that moment of silence, it was most humbling. That’s the message I am taking home to my parish: I was blessed. Who are we in reference to God, or to the Pope? It was humbling.”

Priests from the Diocese also participated in other events as part of the Pope’s visit to the United States. Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, wrote on his blog about his experience attending the Thursday night vespers service with the Holy Father in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

“It seemed like time was suspended,” he wrote. “The hour went by so fast as we were caught up in the beautiful prayerful experience and being in prayerful solidarity with Pope Francis and everyone in this magnificent and historic Cathedral. The Pope’s reflection during the service was so powerful and touching.”

Experiencing and Distributing the Body of Christ

For Father Swift, Sunday started with a three-and-a-half mile walk from St. Monica Parish in South Philadelphia, where he said the 7:00 a.m. Mass in exchange for a place to stay, through Center City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the concelebrating priests vested and had lunch.

"Basically the bishops, priests and deacons had the run of the place. There was a main inside stairwell and there was a two-floor area for lunch…which was just great, because there was hundreds of men that were just enjoying each other’s fraternity.”

While some had predicted chaos as close to a million descended upon Philadelphia for the Mass, “it seemed pretty quiet,” said Father Swift. “I don’t know what a typical morning is like in South Philly on a Sunday, but to me it was no great shakes – other than that fact that there were Army men on every corner.”

“I started to meet up with the other pilgrims and got to security...and happened to wait in line with a family from St. Mary’s. That was really great.”

As the concelebrating priests made their way down the parkway, they were accompanied by an assistant carrying a yellow-and-white umbrella with the papal seal and the World Meeting of Families logo, marking where pilgrims could receive the Eucharist. Father Swift said the reverence, even in this midst of a large crowd, was palpable.

“I was breaking my [hosts] into quarters,” he said. “People were licking their fingers to get particles out of the ciboria, and it was just moving. It was very moving, to see people’s devotion to the Eucharist, to see that the crumb is just as good as the whole host.”

Father Alindogan also found himself moved by the personal connections amid the teeming thousands that attended the Mass, noting the waves of recognition and cheers of support when local parishioners saw their parish priest distributing communion on the parkway.

“I helped with the distribution of Holy Communion about 50 steps from the altar; it was good to be a part of the Mass,” he said. Afterward, “I was in the back and the tears started to flow. A few strangers standing near me were crying as well. They told me, ‘Don’t worry, Father, it’s okay to cry.’

“It was such a great experience.”

Staff writer Christina Leslie assisted with the reporting of this story.