Bishop Hying

Papal pilgrimage proves to be energizing and inspiring

      We are all just beginning to unpack from our pilgrimage to Philadelphia to see the Holy Father, but we will be processing our beautiful experiences for months and years to come!  Pilgrimage is an ancient spiritual practice in our Catholic tradition, beginning with Christians in the early centuries journeying to the Holy Land to visit the places made sacred by the life of Christ. In later years, believers traveled to Rome, Santiago de Compostela and other sites in Europe to venerate saint’s relics and pray in beautiful churches.

      This physical journey with a spiritual purpose and destiny is symbolic of our lifetime pilgrimage to the Father’s house in the Kingdom of heaven. Some basic rules that apply to both our trip to Philadelphia and our journey to God include:  1. Be kind and supportive to your fellow pilgrims, patiently loving and helping them. We are stronger and better together.  2. Expect the unexpected.  Things will not go according to plan, so we have to be joyfully flexible and willing to suffer a little bit.  3. This pilgrimage will change you. You will have new experiences of God and the Church which will expand your vision and understanding. You will be a different person at the end, deeper in love with the Lord.

      On a Thursday morning, we boarded our buses at 7 a.m. and journeyed to our hotel in New Jersey, arriving at 1a.m..  Along the way, we prayed, stopped for Mass and dinner at the Cathedral in Youngstown, Ohio and listened to the pope’s speech to Congress on the bus.  Everybody was super-excited! 

      On Friday, we visited the shrine and tomb of St. John Neumann, the first male American saint, who was born in Bohemia in 1811, came to New York with $1 and the clothes on his back, was ordained a priest and then later served as the fourth bishop of Philadelphia.  A whirlwind of energy and zeal, Neumann built parishes and schools, served the needs of the immigrants, patiently endured a virulent anti-Catholicism and tirelessly visited the sick and the poor. He dropped dead in a Philadelphia street of a stroke at the age of 47.  His feast day is January 5.

      Later on Friday and also on Saturday, we celebrated the Eucharist at a local parish, enjoyed abundant and delicious food provided by kind parishioners and reflected on the power and challenge of Catholic social teaching, especially in light of the pope’s speeches at the White House, the United Nations and Congress.  The absolute dignity of the human person, the call to solidarity and the common good, the primacy of human rights, the value, right and obligation to work in ways that are just and life-giving, the importance of marriage and family, and the need to protect the environment compose this vast and beautiful deposit of moral teaching which, if we embrace and live, will lead to a world that is more just, peaceful, humane and loving. The more we as Catholics study, pray and act in accord with these teachings, the more the Kingdom of God becomes a living reality in our world.

      Saturday afternoon, many of us went into Philadelphia to explore the beautiful city and try to see the pope. Many people in our group got great views and pictures of him as he flew past in his motorcade, blessing and waving to the crowds in his open pope mobile. I saw him twice, each for a nanosecond, once in his Fiat on the way to give a speech and once in the motorcade. We talked to thousands of people from all over the country and all over the world, united in faith and love for God and the Church. It was beautiful!

      Sunday, we traveled by bus, train and foot to enter the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where the papal Mass would be held that afternoon - a daunting task of distance and hundreds of thousands of people.  After a long wait in a line to pass the security checkpoint, we were turned away - just too many people. I wish all of our parishes had such a problem on Sundays!  So we went to a Jumbotron on a street corner and watched the Mass there with thousands of other people.

      When it started, the place was as quiet and reverent as a cathedral. The pope’s messages throughout the visit were challenging, loving and inspirational; his homily was no exception. Then, in a miracle of grace, everyone regrouped at the buses and we drove all night to come home!

      I thank Jennifer Dyer, the head of our diocesan Catholic Charities, who along with her staff, organized and led the whole pilgrimage. They did an amazing job, especially Stephanie Miller!  I thank the team captains, our drivers, the pastors and people of the parishes who welcomed and fed us, the Catholic Charities folks from the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, the media who reported on our experiences and all of the wonderful pilgrims who accompanied us! 

      The faith, energy, courage, perseverance and kindness of the group were the most energizing and inspiring part of the pilgrimage for me. Blessings on all of you and those who accompanied us through prayer and television!  May the fruit of the Holy Father’s visit be enduring and life-changing for all of us.

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