PHILADELPHIA – Pope Francis visited the United States for the first time last week for a jam-packed trip. It included addressing a joint session of Congress in Washington and speaking before the United Nations in New York.
The trip ended on Sunday in Philadelphia with a Papal Mass attended by an estimated 860,000 people from around the world, including approximately 50 students from the Hopkins Catholic Community.
“The crowd, in general, was a more positive crowd than I think I’ve ever seen at any sort of huge mass,” junior Laura Hinsch, the special events coordinator on the Catholic Community board, said. “Pope Francis is incredible, so humble and inspiring.”
The two-hour long Papal Mass in Philadelphia concluded the 2015 World Meeting of Families, a week-long congress for Catholic families held every three years and organized by the Pontifical Council for Families. The event was created in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.
The mass was held in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts before a crowd that filled the mile-long Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City, Philadelphia. The mass was broadcasted with English subtitles on jumbotron screens lining the Parkway. Pope Francis alternated between English and his native Spanish while officiating.
During his Homily, which he delivered in Spanish, Pope Francis focused on the importance of family.
“Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith,” he said.
The Catholic Community, along with students from Towson University and the Baltimore Frassati Fellowship, traveled to Philadelphia in two tour buses. To maximize space in Center City, all buses were required to park at the South Philadelphia Stadium Complex, the major sports complex in Philadelphia. Public transportation from the complex to Center City was available, but the Catholic Community declined due to cost concerns. Hopkins attendees instead walked four miles to and from the Parkway.
Hinsch said choosing to walk strengthened the spiritual meaning of the trip.
“Pilgrimage is not necessarily supposed to be easy, so we definitely got to experience a little bit of the struggles with that,” she said.
Sophomore Helen Collins said attending the mass was worth the eight miles of walking.
“My feet hurt, but I feel super peaceful inside and super happy,” she said.
Collins said her favorite part of the trip happened right before the start of the Papal Mass.
“We were waiting for the mass to start, and a group of people just started playing their little guitars and drums and started turning in a circle and dancing. And people started joining in and eventually it was this huge group of people that were just dancing in the circle just because they’re full of joy and anticipation. That was pretty awesome,” Collins said.
The primary reason Collins went on the pilgrimage, though, was to see Pope Francis.
“The pope is the Vicar of Christ and the leader of the Catholic Church. And the Catholic Church is universal, so in a sense he’s a leader of the entire world. And so the fact that he’s in the United States is just this amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Collins said.
Hinsch said that while she enjoyed the mass, she thought it could have gone more smoothly.
“The city was a little chaotic. I feel like Philadelphia maybe wasn’t totally prepared for the magnitude of this mass,” Hinsch said.
Collins said she was surprised by the number of people who came to the city for the mass.
“It was crowded, which didn’t annoy me because It was actually amazing,” she said.
The Catholic Community started organizing the trip this past summer. According to Father Jerome Zeiler of Saints Philip and James Catholic Church, where the Hopkins Catholic Community is based, the chaplain of Towson University reached out about having Towson and Hopkins students travel to Philadelphia together. Towson did not have enough students going to fill an entire tour bus.
The Catholic Community then gauged student interest at Hopkins.
“At the Catholic Community opening yearly barbeque we did a sign-up interest sheet, and by doing that we got like 60 [to] sign up,” Hinsch said. “So we filled up [the first] bus really quickly… We got the second bus when we found out that we had enough students and enough interest to fill up another bus.”
Hinsch said she was surprised by the number of students who went on the trip.
“Going into it, I was a little unsure. At the Catholic Community events, 40 is our largest, 40 people for Sunday dinners, and so I wasn’t sure,” Hinsch said. “I knew that a lot of people were interested, but I wasn’t sure how many people would commit because I knew there was going to be a cost, obviously — 50 or 80 dollars depending on when you were able to get in. So I was really pleasantly surprised at how positive a response we had.”
Hinsch said her favorite moment was the Peace of Christ, a time when the faithful greet each other during the Mass. At the time, she was waiting in a security line.
“We were like a block away from the security tent and were to the Peace of Christ and we’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re not going to get in. It’s moving really slow. We’re almost at Communion,’” Hinsch said. “And we’re waiting with at least a thousand other people and no jumbotron. So we get to the Peace of Christ, and it was just great because we all just hugged each other and said ‘Peace’ to all of the people around us. Everyone lifted their arms and [showed] the peace sign. It was a neat moment.”
Attendees had to go through security to stand or sit near the stage in front of the Art Museum. However, attendees farther back were able to participate in the mass. Priests walked the length of the Parkway to allow as many attendees as possible to receive Communion.
According to Zeiler, some members of the Catholic Community were able to get close enough to the stage to see Pope Francis.
“It was just kind of the luck of the draw there,” Zeiler said. “What really edified me, though, was how many people came just knowing that they wouldn’t even get a glimpse of the pope but they were just there in the same area as the pope.”
Zeiler also commented on the crowd’s reverence.
“Everyone was really devout during the whole mass. They asked during it to please be respectful and make this a time of silent prayer and everything. And everyone did that,” Zeiler said. “What amazed me most was the silence in the City of Philadelphia in the middle of the day.”
The Mass ended with a blessing for attendees from Pope Francis. He finished by telling attendees to pray for him.