There is an excitement and energy in Philadelphia today that is contagious and has brought a festive and upbeat atmosphere to the city. Each day this week, more people have been arriving in Philly, and today the crowds are noticeably much larger – while at the same time streets have gradually been shut down and security dramatically increased. The combination of traffic-free streets and massive numbers of joyful pilgrims waiting for the arrival of Pope Francis has made Philadelphia the place to be for Catholics and all people of good will. Especially as we have been watching the Holy Father’s visits to Washington, DC, and New York, listening to his powerful words and witnessing his love and joy, we are becoming more and more excited that his next stop is the city that we are in – and that tomorrow, he will join us in prayer and celebration of family life.
This afternoon, the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis gathered for a Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, just a few blocks from the hotel that has been our residence for the week. Archbishop Joseph Tobin presided and preached, and we were also joined by Msgr. Bill Stumpf, our Vicar General, and Mickey Lentz, our Chancellor. We thought that this was going to be a Mass primarily for our Indianapolis group, but St. John’s is the epicenter for many spiritual events this week, and the church ended up being packed full for our 2 pm Mass. Immediately following the Mass, Gianna Emmanuela Molla was scheduled to speak in the church about her mother, St. Gianna Molla. And, at the same time, in the lower level crypt church of St. John’s, the relics of St. Maria Goretti were displayed for veneration – drawing long lines of people as well. This particular church plays an important role in Philadelphia Catholic history, having served as the Cathedral during the time St. John Neumann was bishop of Philadelphia and also the home parish of St. Katharine Drexel and her family. What a joy it was to prepare for the events of this weekend with our own Archbishop as well as fellow pilgrims from around the country and the world in this historic church.
Earlier today, during some free time before the final keynote talk of the World Meeting of Families (given by Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Pastor Rick Warren), I ventured down to Independence Hall. Final plans were being made for Pope Francis’ speech there tomorrow afternoon (see picture below), but everything was open to visitors, so Sean Gallagher, the reporter for our Archdiocesan newspaper who has been with us this week, and I got a private tour of one of the most historic buildings in the nation, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted and signed. There is so much history to absorb throughout this city!
This evening, our pilgrims will gather for a group dinner and then get a good night’s rest before two very long days this weekend. Most of us plan to spend virtually all of Saturday and Sunday on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway either waiting for or joining in the two primary papal events – the Festival of Families on Saturday and Mass on Sunday. I know many other pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and countless other places are making their ways to Philadelphia right now, and we look forward to having them join the joyful community of pilgrims in this city. And, of course, we anxiously await the arrival of Pope Francis!