The roar of cheers alerted the faithful in the pews at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Saturday, Sept. 26 that Pope Francis was nearby. A collective gasp and a frisson of awe shot through the congregation as the pope appeared walking up the main aisle.
That’s what several worshipers recalled following the papal Mass celebrated by the pope shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia.
“The moment he walked in, there was a gasp from everyone. It was breathtaking,” said Kristine Antenucci, a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield, who had been in the city for the World Meeting of Families and who had, along with her two friends, had gotten tickets for the Mass.
Fellow parishioner Geri Salanik heard the pope’s homily as a call for his listeners to serve their communities.
“I’m just in awe of everything. Service is what it’s all about,” she said, although she and her friends were uncertain as to what form that service would take.
Michael Garozzo and his wife, Rachael, listened to the pope’s words from on high because both are members of the archdiocesan choir. They experienced both the exhilaration of seeing the pope and singing for him, and hearing his insistence that all reach out to the poor and others who are struggling.
“A charge went through the choir when we heard the cheers outside. When Pope Francis entered, it seemed so intimate. You’re not supposed to smile when you’re singing, but we did,” Rachael said.
The two are parishioners and members of the choir of Christ the King Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, but said that their choir director, Helen Jauregui, suggested that they audition for the archdiocesan choir so they could sing for the pope.
That was two years ago before any announcement that the pope was coming to Philadelphia, but Michael said he believed all along that he and his wife would perform at the papal Mass. So Michael (a baritone) and Rachel (a soprano) auditioned and were chosen.
Both were very excited to sing for the papal Mass on Saturday, and will return to Philadelphia on Sunday to sing again in an expanded 500-member choir, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra, at the papal Mass at Eakins Oval on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 4 p.m.
Michael said he was touched by the fact that the pope mentioned Philadelphia native St. Katharine Drexel, the Bensalem nun who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, headquartered in Bensalem.
She was canonized a saint in 2000 by Pope John Paul II for her work in ministering to African Americans and Native Americans.
“It’s a special time to be Catholic and to have the Holy See come to us in this city,” Michael said.
Tens of thousands of visitors stood outside the basilica to watch the Mass on Jumbotrons sprinkled throughout the area. Among them were Andy Rammel, a deacon for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, his father, Jack, and his 14-year-old son, Paul. They sat on a wall after the pope’s motorcade left to ponder the words they heard from the homily.
“I heard from the pope’s message that it is important for us to be of service to everyone around us,” said Andy Rammel.
His son is an altar server at his parish is also an aide to a catechist.
“I’m glad I came and heard the messages that the pope had for his people,” Paul said.
For 10-year-old Arthur Jackson, the long walk to the basilica from the 30th Street Station and the security checks were worth the trouble.
“I’m not a Catholic but the pope is a holy man and I wanted to be here,” he said.
Dot Van Allen and her husband, Thomas, had traveled from Northeast Philadelphia to board the SEPTA train from the Croydon station in Bucks County. The members of Our Lady of Calvary Parish in Northeast Philadelphia and their six daughters, Dottie, Grace, Kerri, Alyssa, Tessa and Jenna, who range in ages from 8 to 22, were happily anticipating the chance they might see the pope, and determined to cap their visit to Philadelphia by staying for the evening’s events at the Festival of Families.
Dot Van Allen said her family practices their faith and are involved in parish activities.
“When we heard about the pope’s planned visit, we wanted to add a spark to our faith. I think it will make us more fervent,” she said.
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