PHILADELPHIA – From the moment that his plane, Shepherd One, landed, everyone was rewarded with a perfect, early autumn day.
He came to America as planned. He said “Greetings, to you” and “God Bless America!” beautifully. He mesmerized Washington, reigned over the Big Apple and rocked the Madison Square Garden.
He thrilled Philadelphia with messages and great notes of giving, getting love, tolerance and faith, as a million pilgrims from all ethnicities and persuasions attended the huge rally of the World Meeting of Families.
Up and down Benjamin Franklin Parkway to City Hall, a beaming and effusive pontiff ambled in a papal mobile procession. He illuminated through throngs of adoring, exuberant picture-taking masses.
Philadelphia was heavily guarded with hundreds of national guardsmen and police. Federal offices were in a roller coaster of alternating glee and trepidation over the visit’s unprecedented efforts, even with the Secret Service collaborating with the pope’s Chief of Security, called Domenico.
At the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul, the sun rays shimmered in a rainbow halo above dome, as celestial stains of Hallelujah filled the air. Outside the church, after hearing the point in the service where jubilant parishioners exchanged a welcome, strangers embraced each other, extending into miles and miles of pilgrims, spectators and tourists.
At the Festival of Families, an opera prodigy sang, a comedian performed and the ‘70s Sister Sledge had nuns dancing with a rendition of the groups anthem “We Are Family.” The crowds were singing and chanting when the popemobile circled the Benjamin Franklin Park. Cheers and screams erupted as the Pope waved and smiled, greeted by Philadelphia Orchestra’s rendition of an energetic excerpt from Beethoven’s majestic Fifth Symphony.
“Welcome to Philadelphia,” bellowed actor Mark Wahlberg, the amiable host. Perhaps his best lines were suitably pious: “I hope the good Lord has a sense of humor when it comes to some of the movies I’ve made.”
The pope sat on a large throne, blessed the crowd and led the throng in prayer. Saturday’s Festival of Families was the signature event of the World Meeting of Families, “an intercultural celebration of family life” where crowds bask in papal presence.
Babies were the greatest recipients of personal attention—called the “Catholic bonus.” Pope Francis was quick to pick up on a great American Political Tradition, kissing babies, placing his hands on the babies’ head, giving each a blessing. He would lean over, and softly kiss and infirm a child, on the forehead.
He arrived at the Independece Mall to rapturous cheers, to take his place at the Lincoln’s lectern, using the historic backdrop and its pageantry and pomp to shine again a spotlight on those drowning in the heat deafening anonymity. He spoke in Spanish to a crowd of Spanish speakers. He was spoke in their languages about immigration, to never be ashamed of their past.
Philadelphia began to fill out with cars that vanished from the main avenue, and pilgrims form across the world said goodbye to the pope—of the people, whose humility and humanity, and smile eat across all faith.
And there in the Basilica asked us all: What are we going to do? I am going to heed his call, to be a better person for one another. I won’t let his message be lost among all the pomp and pageantry, among all the rightful fun and jog.
But most of all, I will forgive, starting with myself.