Martha Rodriguez, 51, wears a red beaded rosary around her neck. At its center is a photo of the newest Argentine pope, which she retrieved from Rome a few weeks ago. She clutches it to her breast when she speaks of her trek to Philadelphia and what it means to receive Communion—”the representation of Jesus Christ on Earth,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Rodriguez was one of thousands to receive Communion during Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway given by Pope Francis on his last day in Philadelphia, as part of his first tour of the U.S.
Rodriguez traveled to Rome weeks ago in hopes of seeing the pontiff in Vatican City, however the Sunday she expected to see him, he was out of the country. She was bound and determined to receive Communion in the presence of the pontiff in Philadelphia.
“Everything is for God,” Rodriguez, a native of Chile and now West Chester, Pennsylvania, said. “To be here is for God. It’s a blessing.”
The mass was the last event of the weekend, bringing pilgrims from all across the world to share in the signs of peace, the Our Father prayer, readings in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, a long walk across a city and the announcement that the next World Meeting of Families would be held in Dublin, Ireland in 2018.
Sister Donna Marie Appert of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Long Beach, California was the only representative from the California province to come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families this year. Appert hopes to bring back photos and memories to share with other sisters and her third grade students at St. Helen’s School in South Gate, California.
“It’s much bigger than just myself,” Appert said. “I didn’t want it to be just for me. It’s for everyone that I come in contact with.”
Appert was born in Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia and had the opportunity to see Pope John Paul II in 1979. This time, she said, she was hoping to get a good view of the pontiff.
“I think he’s a Pope for all people,” Appert said. “He’s there for everybody.”
Another Philadelphia native who said he enjoyed the weekend’s events was Jim Kenney, the Democratic nominee for the mayoral election in November. Kenney said he watched TV all week as Pope Francis first arrived in the United States, gave a speech to Congress, visited the 9/11 Memorial and inspired pilgrims from all across the world.
Kenney was present for Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit, but said there’s some differences between the two, especially with more stringent security measures this year.
“Francis smiles more, which really makes him endearing to people,” Kenney said. “And I think Pope John Paul II’s experience in his life was one of fighting against dictatorship and Francis has had a different experience, so you have to judge people based on the experience they’ve had in their own lives.
Chris Goodman, 51, of Cheltenham Township, was selling T-shirts on Broad Street Thursday through Sunday. Business, Goodman said, had been good. By Saturday evening, he was running out of merchandise.
“It’s been a great experience,” Goodman said. “I’ve seen people come together from different cultures as Christians to see the Pope. And the fact that the Pope is stressing unity and opportunity is great to see.”
He says Philadelphians seemed more excited to see a pope this time around.
One of the perks Kenney said he experienced during the week and weekend is maintaining a low profile amid visitors from all across the world.
“Right now, I’m a civilian,” he said. “I have no role in this at all, I’m not an elected official. I’m a nominee for the Democratic party for Mayor. So I’m going to enjoy my civilian status for a few more months now.”
Business had been slow during the past few days at Osteria on Broad Street near Wallace, general manager Mary Moon said. In the afternoon, she and her employees made a makeshift “Open” sign to put in the middle of Broad Street so patrons would know they could stop in.
“We ordered for the masses and I don’t know if we’ll get them,” Moon said around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. “We wanted to be prepared. And we’ve had lovely guests—not as many as we’d like—but the ones we’ve had have been really lovely.”
A medic with the PA National Guard stationed along Broad Street Saturday said they want to send a message that they are there to “support Philadelphia police” and provide medical support for anyone who needs it.
As several security forces gathered from across the region to assist in keeping Philadelphia safe during the week, one pastor made the 16-hour-trip from Robinson, Illinois.
Rev. Aloysius Ndeanaefo, the pastor of St. Elizabeth’s Church, said 46 members of his church initially traveled to New York City to see Pope Francis there, before arriving in time for the papal Mass Sunday.
Several members of the church saw landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building for the first time, Ndeanaefo said.
He added Pope Francis is an interesting pontiff because he “unifies” people and has changed the overall tone of the Catholic church.
“It’s not that he has really changed the fundamental teachings of the church, but rather what he did was change the tone of the church so that the church’s tone is now more welcoming than ever,” Ndeanafeo said.
He first saw Pope Francis in Rome, when he and his church members visited the city during the Year of Faith. Ndeanafeo said he was lucky enough to shake Pope Francis’ hand while he was walking through the crowd.
While he said it was unlikely for him to shake the pontiff’s hand again in Philadelphia, Ndeanafeo was happy to be at the papal Mass.
“I don’t know if I can shake his hand again, but I’m really glad to be here among other priests,” he said. “To be with priests who came from all over, not just from the United States, but outside of the United States. Pope Francis is an exciting person, and I’m most excited to be here.”
Emily Rolen and Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheTempleNews.
Video shot and edited by Sean Brown.