This past week, Mercy Volunteers traveled to Philadelphia from Manayunk, New York City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Savannah. They arrived at our main office in Gwynedd Valley, PA exhausted from the travel but excited more then ever. In two days we were going to see the Pope.
Sunday morning we boarded the buses and began our Pilgrimage down to the city. We walked the five miles from the stadiums down to the Ben Franklin Parkway where Pope Francis would be saying mass later that day. When we arrived closer to the event, I was amazed at the mass amount of people who stood in line waiting to get through security to participate in this historic event. So, we got in line a little after noon, and there we stood… and stood… and stood. Soon it was close to 4pm (when the mass was schedule to begin) and I looked back to see the volunteers faces, they were still all (ok, mostly) smiles, excited to get through the gates. 4pm came and passed. Then 5pm. Then 6pm. We stood in line waiting to get through security but never made it in to the actual mass. We did not see Pope Francis on Sunday nor were we able to watch the mass on a Jumbo-Tron.
After finally getting through security at about 6:30pm, we took a quick glance at the stage where the Pope had stood not 30 minutes prior and began our 5 mile trek back to the bus. On the walk home a volunteer said “What was everyone’s favorite part of today?” Without hesitation, they each jumped in explaining their favorite things from the day. Here are 3 things that nearly brought me to tears from the Mercy Volunteers experience of not seeing the Pope in Philadelphia:
- Mass in Numbers: Experiencing Mass with thousands of people (even if you are just waiting in line) is really an indescribable experience. Mercy Volunteer Salena serving in Savannah said “I was able to exchange the sign of peace with people from all over the globe, from different religions, walks of life, cultures, and races who were in line with me. A truly amazing moment. To think that one man can make us realize that we are more similar than we are different makes me both inspired and hopeful. You rock Pope Francis.”
- Telling their story: Mercy Volunteer Conor said his favorite part of the day was meeting so many different people. We tried our best to stay together in line but it did not take long to be separated into smaller groups. As we mingled with new strangers through each small step forward I watched in amazement at how each volunteer took time to tell someone about the year of service. They talked about serving foster kids who have outgrown the system, a backpack program that feeds kids on weekends, and the disorganization of the system with which we process persons who are homeless. As they told their stories, I could not help but think: the circle of Mercy got a little bigger today.
- Making the most of it: Mercy Volunteer Abby said “my favorite part of today was taking song requests from the crowd.” We might have been in line for almost 6 hours, but Mercy Volunteers certainly can turn a long day into an amazing one. They sung songs of the mass and anything that was suggested from the crowd. Watching them made me realize they really are a beacon of light in the lives of not just people who are poor and marginalized but anyone in need of the light at all.
As I walked the 5 miles back to the stadium and rode the bus for over an hour back to the suburbs I listened to the volunteers go through favorite memories from the weekend. I listened to their positive outlook. I listened to the growth in the experiences. That night, I realized once again how wonderfully blessed MVC is to have such dedicated, strong, and passionate people who are serving in the name of Mercy. So even though we did not get to see the Pope, we really did have the experience of a lifetime!
A HUGE thank you to everyone who helped get the volunteers to Philadelphia this weekend! We could not have done it without you!
Elizabeth MacNeal, Communications Specialist