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Parishes hold ‘watch celebrations’ for those who can’t see pope live



For The Dialog

LEWES – Bernadette Cajina had a ticket to last Sunday’s Papal Mass in Philadelphia, but a leg ailment made that impossible.

So Cajina, using a crutch, went to St. Jude the Apostle’s parish hall where she joined about 200 others to watch Pope Francis via Eternal Word Television Network.

“I guess I wasn’t meant to be there,” said Cajina, a member of the St. Jude pastoral council who chairs the adult faith formation committee. “That’s fine. I’m here, and [Pope Francis’] message is coming through.”

“It’s a beautiful message of mercy and love, unconditional love, that he’s trying to share.”

Similar watch celebrations were held at Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., and at St. John Neumann in Ocean Pines, Md.

About 120 people watched the Mass in the church at Immaculate Conception, said Father Paul Colloton, associate pastor. Parish officials listed hymns sung during the Mass that were in church hymnals and listed them on the church’s music board. That allowed parishioners to sing along with fellow parishioner Natalie Cooper, who was part of the choir in Philadelphia. After Mass, pizza and salads were served in the school gymnasium.

“It was a prayerful time of enjoying the pope and our shared Catholic identity,” Father Colloton said.

In Lewes, parishioners had originally considered chartering a bus for the Mass, said Mary Ellen Hearn, who chaired the event. Since many parishioners are retired, and many of them would have struggled to walk the distances required, “we decided to come up with something more local.”

They designed an event as close as possible to actually being at the Mass in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, from the life-sized cutout of Pope Francis that greeted those attending to the food served: Philadelphia-style hoagies, soft pretzels, Tastykake treats, and Herr’s potato chips. Tastykakes are synonymous with Philadelphia, and the chips were from Herr’s, a Pennsylvania company.

For children who grew antsy during Mass, a crafts room allowed them to color drawings of the pope and the Vatican seal; decorate paper miters, the headdress used by the pope during Mass, and watch an animated religious film.

Many who attended had considered making the 115-mile journey to the papal Mass, but decided against it. For Dolores Rubolin, a foot injury sealed her decision. She had grown up in South Philadelphia, and said 20 years ago her family would have gathered at a relative’s house to make the celebration a family affair. “I would have loved to be there,” she said.

At least two of those attending had seen the pope during his United States visit, including Martha Provins, who had a top seat at the White House for President Obama’s official welcome for Pope Francis. Hobbled by a leg problem that required her to use a wheelchair in Washington, she was escorted to an area for those with disabilities and was in the front row, with an unobstructed view of the podium, 250 or so feet from the podium where first the president, then the pope spoke.

She and her husband arrived hours before the event began.

“A lot of people were deep in prayer” as they waited, she said, describing the atmosphere as “quiet and joyful.”

After watching the pope throughout his visit, she gave this description of Pope Francis: “He is love.”

Judith Hudson was still on a high from seeing Pope Francis at close distance the day before, after receiving a ticket for the festival of families featuring Pope Francis during St. Jude’s parish picnic the week before. She waited some 10 hours to catch a glimpse of the pope during his motorcade, but said it was worth the effort.

“It was a holy thing,” Hudson said. “I just wanted to be in the presence of the pope, to see his face.”

While Kathy Ebner could not get to Philadelphia for any of the events, she felt a special attachment to two of Pope Francis’ appearances. Ebner, a pastoral associate at St. Jude, had earned a master’s in Biblical studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary where Pope Francis spent the night, and eagerly watched as he spoke at the seminary chapel on Sunday morning.

“It was like seeing all the familiar places, seeing the chapel where I graduated,” she said. “I just felt a part of that place and I wanted to be there with them.”

A deeper connection to Pope Francis came during the Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, when a commentator mentioned that the chalice the pope elevated at the consecration was used by an early bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann.

She quickly called her daughter, Lara Erd, who was waiting outside the basilica. When her daughter was an infant struggling with unknown respiratory problems, and while awaiting tests to see how serious her condition was, a priest friend had placed the same chalice in Lara’s hands.

Lara’s condition quickly improved, and the tests came back negative for the various afflictions for which she was tested. “We consider it a true miracle,” Ebner said.

Ebner brought tears to her daughter’s eyes as she told her, “The chalice you held and got better with, he [Pope Francis] is holding it now.”

One family gave the atmosphere at St. Jude an almost ecumenical flavor. Billy Graham attended, along with his wife, Amy, and their two children, Patrick, 14, and Sean, 16. But Graham quickly pointed out that he was no relation to the famous Christian evangelist who shares the name.

Amy Graham, a native of the Philippines, followed the pope’s words in their shared native tongue, Spanish. “It was inspiring,” she said.

She had followed the pope during a visit to the Philippines in January, and again through his trip to Cuba and the United States. It connected her native land, which she left at age 23, and her new home, the United States, where she has lived for 25 years. After watching the pope throughout the year, she said, “It’s amazing how humble he is.”

Father Tom Flowers, pastor, connected part of the pope’s message to the event at St. Jude. Noting that Pope Francis has called for the laity to become more active, one of the mandates of the Second Vatican Council, he noted that the laity had conceived the plan for the Papal Mass watch and developed it.

“The principal job of a pastor is to be a cheerleader,” he said, encouraging those he leads toward what is good and urging them away from that which is bad.

Pope Francis provides an example on how to accomplish that.

“The word that stands out for me is gentle,” Father Flowers said “He challenges us gently. Everything he does is so gentle. If we were to follow his example in our lives – in our homes, in Congress, in the church – everything would be better.”

Not everyone who attended chose to be there. In teenage honestly, Roman Dutton, 14, when asked what made him decide to attend, replied: “My mom made me come.” But, he added, “It was cool seeing the pope. He’s pretty cool.”

Sarah Hearn, also 14, was as excited to attend as Roman was initially disinterested.

“He is so full of happiness and kindness,” Sarah said. “Even if I couldn’t go to the Mass I just wanted to celebrate with him.”

Perhaps summing up the feelings of all those who attended, she added:

“He speaks from the heart. You could tell he was sincere in what he said. He asked people to pray for him, which just shows how humble he is.”


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