The World Meeting of Families was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am grateful to have been a part of it. I was there as an exhibitor, but I also attended some of the keynote presentations as well as the daily Masses. Over 20,000 attended the huge event in Philadelphia, which ended with the Festival of Families on Saturday and the Papal Mass on Sunday. Worshipping, interacting and networking with fellow Catholics was edifying and inspiring. I made many new friends and connected with old ones!
We got up early and were fortunate to be in the first section behind the seats. Security was tight on both the train and at the security checkpoints in Philly (they even carefully checked the religious sisters behind us). It was the first time I ever saw the Ben Franklin Bridge with no cars on it!
This wasn’t my first Papal Mass. My family and I attended the World Youth Day Mass with John Paul II in 2002 in Toronto. Attending an outside Mass with nearly a million others is wonderfully exhilarating!
This year, we had a pretty good view of the altar (until they put a tent up! Evidently, the organizers thought it might rain so they put a tent over the instruments…they also didn’t realize it would obstruct the crowd’s view of the altar. Thankfully, after the crowd chanted “Move that tent” loudly several times, they eventually took the tent down!)
My husband got this wonderful photo of Pope Francis in his Popemobile.
Meeting (or seeing again):
So many priests and religious on fire for their faith!
Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of them was Sr. Ellen (from Ottawa!)
A fellow CCL teaching couple from India!
Courage International Team
(I’ve talked to the wonderful team of Courage International over the phone several times but have never met any of them!)
I loved when attendees came up to my husband to tell him they recognize him from his cartoon!
I met four adult women shorter than me and one adult man!
(Sorry, no photos. You’ll have to take my word for it!)
I loved seeing so many people I already know!
I enjoyed attending Mass with 17,000 fellow Catholics
Catholic Writers Guild Booth
I was at the World Meeting of Families representing the Catholic Writers Guild. I spoke to many people who were either interested in writing or knew other Catholic writers who might want to join. I gave away many brochures, booklets and business cards and I think CWG gained nearly 20 members!
Early Shutdown of the Exhibitor Hall
Although the exhibitor hall was scheduled to be opened until one p.m. on Friday, we were informed at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon that we would need to shut our booth down by 6:00 p.m. and that the exhibitor hall would be closed on Friday because of “security concerns.” We wound up spending the last hour trying to give away books and taking down our booth. Since we had taken the Speedline in the morning, we had no car available. My husband and I are especially thankful to friends from our diocese for helping carry all the stands and books ten blocks to the Speedline! (Thank you, Dan, Kelsey, Grace, Chris, Yvette and Irene!) Also thanks to my sister, Laurie, and her friend, George, for helping carry items. We would never have been able to take down the booth and get the materials back to my sister’s place without everyone’s assistance!
Unfortunately, because of this early shut down, many of the attendees didn’t have an opportunity to browse the exhibitor hall. (I myself was waiting until Friday to purchase tee shirts and other items for Christmas gifts.) Many exhibitors lost money because of the early closure.
One of the main exits from the large conference room used for Mass and keynote presentations exited into a very narrow hallway. 15,000 people trying to squeeze into this narrow hallway was challenging at best. After Mass and keynotes, it often took half an hour just to exit. Anyone with claustrophobia must’ve had a difficult time.
I was told that a few FEMEN demonstrators tried to draw attention to themselves in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center on one of the days (but I didn’t see them). As well, another attendee told me that several same sex couples attended one of the breakout sessions on Marriage and confronted the speakers.
There was too much packed into three and a half days. It began with Mass at 8:30 a.m., one or two keynote presentations and many, many breakout sessions, and ended at 6:00 p.m. We were commuting back and forth from New Jersey via the PATCO Speedline so that made the schedule a bit more challenging. (Although I must commend the PATCO people during the weekend of the Papal visit. Trains were frequent and PATCO employees were very courteous and helpful!
There was a bit of a Disneyland Atmosphere even at Mass, although this is understandable given the once-in-a-lifetime event for most of the people attending.
Communion at Papal Mass
While there seemed to be enough priests giving out the Eucharist at the Papal Mass, there was no organized way to receive. The priest came to the fence and immediately hundreds of people descended to that area without forming any lines. It was haphazard at best. A few times, I thought I was going to be crushed. I realize that perhaps they didn’t have enough volunteers to organize the lines for communicants, but this was the only aspect of the Papal Mass that seemed disorganized.
All in all, however, I’m thankful I had the opportunity to attend! Both my husband and I had a wonderful — if not exhausting — time! Check out more photos on my Instagram page.
Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach #WMF2015 #popeinphilly #worldmeeting2015