October 2, 2015

Pilgrims seek to ‘see Jesus’ in pope at festival, Independence Hall

Scott Seibert, left, coordinator of marriage and family enrichment for the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life, David Dellacca, DeInda Dellacca, Renee Odum, Asa Odum (both partially obscured) and Shane Odum pray on Sept. 26 while standing along a barricade next to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia prior to the Festival of Families, which was attended by Pope Francis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Scott Seibert, left, coordinator of marriage and family enrichment for the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life and Family Life, David Dellacca, DeInda Dellacca, Renee Odum, Asa Odum (both partially obscured) and Shane Odum pray on Sept. 26 while standing along a barricade next to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia prior to the Festival of Families, which was attended by Pope Francis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

PHILADELPHIA—After the World Meeting of Families congress ended on Sept. 25, the focus of the 46 pilgrims from central and southern Indiana was on Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

Many saw him at the Festival of Families on the evening of Sept. 26, which featured performances by entertainers and witnesses by families from around the world.

Then on Sept. 27, they would worship with the pope—and nearly 1 million other Massgoers—at the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families.

The festival and liturgy both took place on a temporary stage built on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the picturesque Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Before all that, though, the pilgrims gathered for Mass on the morning of Sept. 26 at St. John the Evangelist Church, a few blocks from their hotel in Philadelphia.

In contrast to the Mass that took place the next day, this liturgy had a congregation of about 100 worshipers.

Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan vocations director and chaplain for the archdiocesan pilgrimage, was the principal celebrant and homilist. He encouraged pilgrims to keep their focus on Christ in the weekend’s festivities.

“We’re here to see Jesus,” he said. “We are here to see Jesus in the sacraments and the Eucharist. We’re here to see Jesus in those we encounter. The people we’ve met at the World Meeting of Families and have learned from and listened to this week have helped us draw closer to Jesus, to see in them the love of God, to learn from them how to form families of love and peace and reconciliation.

“That’s why we’re drawn to [Pope Francis], too. Not to see a celebrity, but to glimpse the face of Jesus in the shepherd that he has given us here on Earth.”

After the morning Mass, many of the pilgrims made a long walk to the parkway, walking down the middle of streets barred from all vehicular traffic because of the pope’s visit, and passing through tight security checkpoints.

Renee Odum, her husband Shane and their 12-week-old adopted son Asa, all members of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, spent several hours waiting for the pope to arrive and to experience the Festival of Families.

When she and Shane first sought to participate in the archdiocesan pilgrimage, they thought they were doing so as a childless married couple. They had been married for seven years, coped with infertility, the loss of an unborn child, and Renee battling through non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

They had tried many times to adopt a child with no success. That all changed in a moment about four months ago.

“We finally let it go and said, ‘In God’s time,’ ” Renee said. “Then, bam, we got a call … and were told that, in 10 days we were going to be parents.”

So, despite the challenges of a 14-hour bus ride with an infant, Renee said that her family’s attending the World Meeting of Families was “perfect timing.”

She listened to a presentation on the difficulties and blessings of the adopting process that helped her realize her family’s connection to so many others.

“It’s been therapeutic and healing,” she said. “Other people go through the same exact thing, and we’re all here and have our own crosses to bear. It’s how you pick up that cross and move forward. It’s been amazing to be here.”

Samantha McGuire and her 13-year-old daughter Clare watched television coverage of the pope’s arrival in Philadelphia from their hotel room. Clare suffers from Rett syndrome, a rare genetic brain disorder that involves both physical and mental disabilities. She also uses a wheelchair.

Samantha hoped before setting out on the pilgrimage that Pope Francis might be able to greet and bless Clare. But she was satisfied to see him bless a boy in a wheelchair shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia.

“She could see him, and she was all excited,” said Samantha, who, with her family, is a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville. “I told her, ‘If the pope could see you, he would bless you like that.’ I feel like she got that blessing through him. That was really cool that that worked out that way.”

While the Odum family and other pilgrims waited for the pope and attended the Festival of Families along the parkway, a handful of archdiocesan pilgrims attended a speech given by Pope Francis at Independence Hall.

Steve and Kathy Heath, members of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis, were given tickets to the limited-seating event at the last minute and were overjoyed to see the pope.

For Steve, it was a chance to see the presence of Jesus in the pope as Father Augenstein had suggested earlier in the day at Mass.

“You get a little glimpse of what heaven is going to be like,” said Steve. “It was thrilling to see him up close. And after he went by, to look around and see the crowd—the smiles, the happy faces. Everybody was so uplifted. It was amazing. Everybody’s face was aglow.”

Tami Koehl attended the speech with her three sons. She entered into the event with the spirit of family life encouraged at the World Meeting of Families.

“Being a mom, I give everything to my kids,” said Koehl, a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood.” I was more happy for them to have this experience than I was for myself. I wanted them to be able to say, ‘I was there. I was touched. I was changed.’ My happiness lies in whatever they get from it.”

Arthur Koehl, a junior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, said he gained much from seeing and hearing the pope with so many faith-filled people from around the world.

“I got to take a lot of pictures, and I met amazing people,” he said. “I learned about how people live their lives and how they view Christian life.

“My teachers are going to ask me a lot of questions. I can inform them and tell them how my experience was for me. It will help out a lot when I get older when I explain it to my children and grandchildren.”

Around 7 p.m. on Sept. 26, after many pilgrims had been along the parkway for more than eight hours, Pope Francis rode in a popemobile to greet the hundreds of thousands of people attending the Festival of Families.

The pilgrims from central and southern Indiana were happy to see the pope during his historic visit to the United States, and amazed by a reflection on family life that he gave during the event.

“From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: ‘It is not good for you to be alone,’ ” Pope Francis said. “The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this ‘God with us,’ who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home.

“God does not dream by himself. He tries to do everything ‘with us.’ His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.”
 

(For more coverage of the archdiocesan pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, including photo galleries and links to blog posts, visit www.archindy.org/wmof.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!