Blue Jay Pilgrims Return from Papal Visit to Philadelphia

Posted October 1, 2015 / Last updated October 1, 2015

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From Sept. 24 – Sept. 28, six Blue Jays and two faculty members traveled to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis. The pope was visiting Philadelphia at the end of his Apostolic journey to the United States in order to be a part of the concluding ceremonies for the World Meeting of Families. In preparation for the papal events the delegation from Jesuit spent a day reflecting with students from over 40 Jesuit high schools on the major themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate: Joy, Mercy, and Encounter. Following this day of reflection, the group took part in the events surrounding Pope Francis’ visit.

The best way to sum up the visit to Philadelphia is to say that the pilgrimage afforded an opportunity for an intimate encounter with the Holy Father. So often there seems to be a media force-field surrounding the pope, as media outlets try to adopt Pope Francis as the spokesman for their own agendas. These days of single-mindedness, directing all efforts to the mission of seeing Pope Francis and hearing his words of constant encouragement, allowed these eight pilgrims a chance to break through the filtered Francis and encountering “Il Papa,” the fatherly shepherd who consoles and strengthens his flock.

Jesuit pilgrims enjoy a moment of conversation with a few joyful religious sisters from Kenya.

Jesuit pilgrims enjoy a moment of conversation with some joyful religious sisters from Kenya.

On Saturday, the group walked with more than 300 students from Jesuit schools throughout the Americas to Independence Mall for an address with Pope Francis and 30,000 of his friends. As far as papal events go, this is about as intimate as a public address can get. The group’s arrival was followed by a period of five hours of waiting on the mall for the address.

Senior Brady Stiller was most moved in this time by the many conversations he had motivated by Pope Francis’ theme of “encounter.” Religious sisters, priests, lay men and women of good will were all concentrated in one space and for one purpose.

“Hearing the stories of so many wonderful people and being inspired by their joy was the best part of the whole experience for me,” commented Stiller. “It was the most overwhelming expression of the universal Church that I have been able to participate in.”

The group was able to secure a space within a few rows of the barricades as Pope Francis made his unhurried arrival. After the moving words of the pope on the dignity of immigrants and the necessity of religious freedom, the group went to dinner to watch the Festival of Families.

The Festival of Families included a variety of musical performances interspersed with moving testimonies from families around the world, sharing with the Holy Father their stories of the challenges and joys of life in the family.

Senior Francesco Pineda found these stories to be the most inspirational part of the pilgrimage.

“By far, the best event was the Festival of Families. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I was just filled with so much hope hearing people talk about the future of the family and the Church. I really liked the young couple who were engaged and speaking from their heart about their fears before marriage and their desire to live a pure life and help each other become more holy.”

On Sunday morning, while Pope Francis was speaking with the bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and visiting the imprisoned at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the group was busy securing a spot to be able to catch a glimpse of the pope as he paraded to the papal Mass in the afternoon. Making quick friends with the delegation from Jesuit Tampa and relying on many years’ experience marking territory for Mardi Gras parades, the group was excited to lay claim to real estate touching the barricade on the street the pope would be traveling. The group got its nearest view of the Holy Father as he passed some five feet in front of them in the Pope-mobile, amid cheers from the surrounding crowd.

The crowd came to a solemn hush for the beginning of the papal Mass, which concluded the World Meeting of Families.

“This was the best Mass I have ever participated in!” said senior Brandon Wolff.

With thousands of people lining the streets and grassy areas, it seemed like the entire city of Philadelphia was singing the Kyrie as Mass began.

The Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway concluded both Pope Francis’ and the Jesuit delegation’s journey to Philadelphia. As the group has returned to the cycle of classes and missed assignments, each member holds with him the character of Pope’s visit: to be motivated by the love of God in his everyday life.

As the Pope said in his Sunday homily, God’s “love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel!”