By Evelyn P. Yenson
Northwest Asian Weekly
We all are pilgrims, and that is why we were going to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. When the Holy Father stated that he is the son of immigrants, I felt the same gratitude to be an American as the third-generation South African Chinese with parents who were devoted Catholics. My siblings and I were the beneficiaries of generous scholarships to study at colleges in New York and Massachusetts, and eventually to lead good lives in this country. With gratitude, my friend Linda Moran and I joined the Archdiocese of Seattle group for the special experience with Pope Francis.
I knew there were reasons. WHY, HOW, WHAT, WHAT NOW?
Pope Francis is truly man of our time – a realistic leader. He defines family in many ways. We all have families which include those we know and love, those we encounter, and others who have an impact on us in ways we may never know. This trip proved the point. Other than Linda, a colleague and friend for almost 20 years, we travelled, shared meals, life histories with most persons we would have never met.
From the time we arrived at SeaTac there were many challenges in traveling with Linda who has MS, the response was amazing – airport staff and fellow passengers were thoughtful and patient.
On Saturday, our first day in Philadelphia, it was amazing to see how the city responded. No cars in the Central city; subways exclusively for visitors, and the SEPTA staff, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation were A+++. With the barricades all around, we decided to wait in the City Hall historic area. To see the Pope we found a prime spot where we waited for seven hours! During the long wait there were incredible cheers for the State Patrol, the city police, the TSA, the Secret Service, the DEA. It seemed these law enforcement were well-loved. We met families from Colombia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Mexico, El Salvador and others.
Then the pope mobile drove by, Pope Francis waved, everyone cheered and waved back. A great feeling all around. With that, people quietly packed up their folding chairs, blankets, litter, and then walked out the security gates.
Sunday was the highlight of our weekend – the Mass with the Holy Father. The outbound trip was a repeat from Saturday — our bus left the hotel at 8:30 for the Subway station, four stops, then the one mile walk to thespecial enclosed ticketed area on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The city was deader than a door-nail – not a single car, bus or bike to be seen. There were VIP ticketed seating areas, and we were fortunate enough to hold a ticket with 10,000 others for the next section –”bring your own blankets, folding chairs, or sit on the highway.” The crowds were incredible – the majority was over 50, primarily white, with the largest representation from our Hispanic neighbors and friends, few Asians and blacks. There were a small number of families with children under 10, a fair number of high schoolers and nuns and priests. It was definitely not a very diverse group, and did not seem representative of the USA. There are perhaps many reasons–location, strict rules, schedule, expense to get there, etc.
Security was stricter than the day before. We were fortunate to get through the gates unlike some in our group who waited over four hours and were shut out because the venue was full, even though they had the special tickets.
Inside, the crowd was energized; people were polite, friendly courteous. This atmosphere was most unusual compared to large crowds one experiences elsewhere such as sports stadium events; here there was no pushing, yelling, with the often resulting consequences. There was definite quietude – and it was the same feeling within ourselves.
We carefully wedged our way through crowds that had staked out their seats since 5am; we sat down in our lucky 18x18in space on the tarmac, grateful that we could see the altar behind two jumbotron screens only 300ft away! But it was a relief, and I was thankful. And that is where we waited for the next four hours before the start of Mass.
Around 3pm, the crowds were alerted on the giant screen that Pope Francis was on his way. So everyone jumped to the fence, and once again we were energized to wave at the pope mobile as the Pope circled around our area – we watched him gently kiss the infants and children who came to him for his personal blessing. At long last, the hour we all waited for arrived – the celebration of Mass by Pope Francis. There was absolute silence, and then the bells started to ring. Music and the choirs were beautiful. It was a moving experience to hear words in Latin, Spanish, Vietnamese, English. We were reminded to be kind, be understanding, consider others, be the example, and preserve our planet for future generations. We all were truly moved, and all agreed to pray for the Pope as he asked.
The return to the parked bus included the four hour trudge to the subway line – symbolic of the pilgrimage of life – we have a goal, but we do not always have control of the twists and turns, interruptions, temptations, deviations along the way. But if we stay focused, be patient, consider others, love family, big and small, near and far, we will reach our destination.
As I write this story of seeing Pope Francis, I know that he is the leader we all want and need. He leads by example, is simple, cares about all of us, especially those in need, acknowledges wrong actions by some members of the clergy, believes in preserving life and liberty for all, and protecting the environment.
And for the future, we are all family.
Every small step counts. (end)