You could say they are ordinary people, but actually they are extraordinary. These are the families who will go that extra mile for the unspecified number of tickets released by the World Meeting of Families relatively close to the altar for the Sept. 27 Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
A check with several pastors suggests demand is picking up, and in many cases alternatives are planned for those who are unable to attend.
At Holy Innocents Parish, Philadelphia, Father Thomas Higgins said they were adjusting the Mass schedule for that day, eliminating two Masses, so he and his two assistants at the sprawling parish of 3,000 families can attend. They will be renting a bus or two to take people as close as they can before dropping them off.
Other parishioners would go on their own, but in Father Higgins’ mind it’s better to go as a group reflecting parish solidarity.
In addition to the allotted tickets for the papal Mass and the Festival of Families, there are 30 Holy Innocents parishioners participating in the World Meeting of Families who will also have tickets. “We subsidized them,” Father Higgins said. “We raised about $3,500 through a flea market and food sales.”
At St. Francis Xavier Parish in the Fairmount section of the city, transportation at least won’t be a problem, because the church is practically across the street for the altar site. Of course, parishioners will still have to have tickets to stand in the designated 20th-22nd Street section allotted to parishes.
“The Highway Patrol will be using our parking lot for their motorcycles to escort the governor, the mayor and other dignitaries,” said St. Francis’ pastor Father Paul Convery. The Secret Service will also use the facilities including the school restrooms.
A number of parishioners have volunteered for the event, including the school principal, Dolores Butler. Also, one of the World Meeting speakers, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, will give a presentation at the parish.
Although the papal Mass and Festival of Families will be huge, the neighborhood is used to big parkway events and will take it in stride, Father Convery believes. “People are excited. It is a time of grace for everyone,” he said.
Five busloads of parishioners are coming down to Philadelphia from St. Bede in Holland, and they could probably fill another, according to Msgr. John Marine, the pastor. In addition, others are traveling on their own. “We have a lot of enthusiasm here,” he said. “We have a number of volunteers.”
One parishioner, Amy Wall — who received the gift of hearing as the miracle accepted for St. Katharine Drexel’s canonization — will do a reading at the Festival of Families.
St. Bede Parish has been preparing through prayer and promoting the events through two large banners. Also there will be a special blessing ceremony for families in the church on Sept. 20. For those who cannot attend the Mass on the parkway there will be a large screen set up in the church, with maybe a pot luck supper to follow.
At Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, calls and emails for tickets really picked up, more so for the Mass than the Festival, after it was learned there would be free tickets for the section reserved for parishes, according to Father Joseph Farrell, the pastor. Requests have been particularly strong from the Hispanic congregation that utilizes the St. Leo worship site.
The parish will present the people who are going with holy cards and perhaps special T-shirts, although it is not running buses. For those who cannot attend in person there will probably be a big-screen projection followed by a pot luck supper, the pastor said.
At St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford, tickets are also in high demand with many inquiries, according to Father Edward Hallinan, the pastor. Because there are many people unable to attend in person, he will have a large screen set up in the church. And as a special gift, with archdiocesan permission, he will distribute holy Communion at the same time as it is distributed on the parkway.
Several of the parishioners at St. Mary Magdalen, Media, had leading roles in the planning of the World Meeting of Families, according to Msgr. Ralph Chieffo, the pastor. A number of the parishioners have either taken hotel rooms or will be staying with relatives or friends in the city.
On the other hand 40 visiting young members of the Neocatechumenal Way will be sleeping in parish facilities.
The great emphasis at St. Mary Magdalen has been on catechesis in advance of the World Meeting of Families, especially through prayer groups, and will continue through follow-up after the congress and papal visit have concluded.
For those who cannot attend the papal Mass, Msgr. Chieffo is urging them to organize television viewings. “Just like family and friends at a Super Bowl party,” he said.
As for himself he will be down in Philadelphia joining the great procession from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the altar site of the historic Mass with Pope Francis.
St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia has just completed a nine-week course in preparation for the World Meeting of Families through a nine-week catechesis with sessions on Wednesdays and repeated on Sundays, according to Father Christopher Walsh, St. Raymond’s pastor.
“Taking Pope Francis at his word, we also went out on the streets contacting people,” Father Walsh said. “At first we knocked on doors, but that didn’t work well because people don’t answer their door so we did it on busy street corners. We had about 10 or 12 people in three or four teams doing this.”
The parish is also having a block party to kick off the World Meeting of Families and about 24 parishioners will attend the sessions. Choir members will be singing at the Festival of Families, and a large group will be at the papal Mass.
There will be viewing parties at St. Raymond for both the Festival of Families and the papal Mass.
Now here’s the big one. St. Joseph Parish, way out in Downingtown, Chester County, has 11 buses coming in for the Papal Mass, according to Msgr. Joseph McLoone, the pastor. In addition to the people who told him they were going into Philadelphia on their own, there should be about 1,000 people from the parish at the Mass.
“I pushed it and now my problem is I don’t have enough standing tickets,” he said.
The buses are bringing the people into the South Philadelphia sports complex, near Lincoln Financial Field, and leaving nothing to chance Msgr. McLoone has already pre-purchased tokens for the Broad Street Subway. A brief ride will take passengers to Broad and Walnut Streets, a relatively short walking distance to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Probably a little over a dozen parishioners are also attending the World Meeting of Families sessions and for them the parish is subsidizing half of their cost, Msgr. McLoone said.
As at most parishes, St. Joseph’s did promote the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the visit by Pope Francis, but no in a large way until the details began to firm up.
Msgr. McLoone told the congregation, “We know the hype, we know the dire warnings, we know the security restrictions, but the other side is the Holy Father is coming. It is a blessed event and a one-time opportunity.”
It was after the announcement that there were standing-room tickets available that the numbers really shot up.
“You have to be positive and encouraging,” Msgr. McLoone said. “The people are excited and wanted to go once they saw it was possible.”