By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
Saturday Sept. 26
10 p.m.: Students filed into the Immaculate Conception Chapel under the damp, dark skies of Dayton, Ohio, equipped with pillows, backpacks and excitement as we set out to embark on a pilgrimage to Philadelphia for a Mass by Pope Francis. Deciding to neglect a day of potential homework and studying was no small task for me and the other responsible students, but this opportunity was once-in-a-lifetime.
Shortly after 10, we rose from the pews in the chapel and sang a rousing rendition of the traditional Catholic hymn “Blest Are They,” as a Channel 7 cameraman creepily bore down on the faces of several unsuspecting students, who, at that point, assumed more concerned, reluctant faces.
10:20 p.m.: We loaded the two buses we had, under the direction that the first bus was “peanut free,” always having to cater to those whom natural selection has already tried to exterminate.
10:45 p.m.: We finally set sail through the misty night toward Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a nine-hour journey across the Eastern time zone. Shortly into our travels, I fell into a deep meditative state, pondering the experience in which I would partake the following day.
Sunday Sept. 27
8 a.m.: Our two buses pulled into the vast parking lots adjacent to the major sports venues of Philadelphia. As a passionate baseball fan myself, I was agonized that I was mere steps away from Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, but would not be taking in a game. But I supposed since it was for the pope, I could handle a lack of baseball.
With that in mind, we began our trek from the stadium parking lot to Benjamin Franklin Boulevard—a main drag in the heart of Philadelphia. That trek, though, was approximately four miles each way. Our pope squadron of UD students began slowly gravitating to the skyline of Philadelphia along with the several other groups of pilgrims, who had arrived on buses around the same time.
The lengthy walk took us straight down Broad Street, past a frighteningly high concentration of funeral homes amidst quaint shops, eateries and apartments lining El Camino Papal.
9:30 a.m.: A well-dressed man holding a Channel 7 microphone in front of a cameraman called out to our group, decorated with Dayton apparel. He asked if any of us were from Pittsburgh and explained that he had come to UD’s campus and interviewed fellow student Sean Ferguson in the spring. He then interviewed sophomore Sarah Stratil on Broad Street.
10 a.m.: We continued meandering around downtown Philadelphia to get to a security checkpoint through which we would enter the Pope Zone. Several blocks on the Ben Franklin Parkway had been sectioned off as a secure zone for the Papal Mass, which ended up as a celebration of 800,000 people.
12 p.m.: After standing in a large security queue for nearly an hour, our group made it inside the gates and made our way near the back of the zone, where we promptly plopped our sore bodies down on the asphalt and commenced a lengthy wait before Mass, which began at 4 p.m.
Shortly after, a formation of two Marine helicopters and two V-22 Ospreys flew overhead, presumably an airborne motorcade for Pope Francis.
3 p.m.: Pope Francis finally appeared on several large television screens scattered throughout the boulevard. His motorcade had arrived, weaving through the massive crowds on an open-air Popemobile-esque vehicle.
3:25 p.m.: The Pope’s car turned a corner and headed in our direction. The 17-hour journey was finally coming to a peak for the joyful Flyers, who were among the hundreds of people jockeying for a position along the barricades to get as close as possible to the Holy Father.
Pope Francis smiled and waved as his vehicle drove by, flanked by police and secret service, as the faithful lining the road snapped pictures and videos in jubilation.
“Seeing the Vicar of Christ in person was unlike anything I could have ever imagined,” sophomore UD student Alexander Mingus said after the trip. “The feeling that I had was one of pure joy, and it was amazing to see that everyone else around me was having that same experience.”
4 p.m.: The Mass began, and Pope Francis was accompanied by cardinals and bishops from the Philadelphia area and beyond. The readings were proclaimed in Spanish, Vietnamese and English. The faithful who had been in a frenzy over the Pope’s arrival minutes prior had subsided into silence for the solemn celebration.
“It was incredible to see that many people congregated there for one reason, praying together,” sophomore Noelle Jacobs said. “It was really cool because people in front of us at Mass were from Brazil, so it was amazing seeing people from all over.”
6 p.m.: The Mass concluded and the Book of Exodus came alive in Philadelphia. The crowds departed the boulevard and pushed back toward Broad Street to make the trek back to the bus parking lot outside the city.
The excitement and joy, though, had not been squashed. On the journey back, we witnessed dancing in the streets and singing.
8 p.m.: After all of our students (miraculously) arrived back at the buses, we departed for Dayton.
Monday Sept 28
3:25 a.m.: I awoke to the deceleration of the bus and looked out the window to take in our destination—which was the middle of nowhere. The bus driver pulled over on the side of the highway, halting our return that was already a bit delayed. It appeared for a moment that our bus had broken down, but the heroic driver soon restarted the vehicle and resumed our trip.
6:30 a.m.: The bus pulled up in front of the Immaculate Conception Chapel, back at UD, and our journey was finally complete—an hour and a half before my first class of the week. It was an exhausting, whirlwind experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Photos by Steve Miller.