Love is Our Mission – World Meeting of Families and the Papal Visit #WMF2015

world-meeting-of-families-philadelphia-2015-logoThe 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!

High points:

Papal Mass
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! IMG_1288

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!)

photo copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

photo copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

My husband got this wonderful photo of Pope Francis in his Popemobile.

copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

copyright James Hrkach. Please do not use without permission.

Meeting (or seeing again):

Christopher West

Christopher West, author and speaker (Theology of the Body Explained, Good News About Sex and Marriage)

Jason Evert, popular chastity speaker (who also recorded a message for my 26 year old son!)

Jason Evert, popular author and chastity speaker,  (who also recorded a message for my 26 year old son!)

With Dr. Janet Smith! Years ago, I gave her copies of Emily's Hope and In Name Only. This year, I gave her a copy of Stealing Jenny, as well as four other FQP books!

With Dr. Janet Smith, author and speaker. Years ago, I gave her copies of my first two novels, Emily’s Hope and In Name Only. This year, I gave her a copy of Stealing Jenny, as well as four other FQP books!

Our diocese’s former bishop, Archbishop Richard Smith (third from left, back row), was sitting behind our group at Mass on Friday!
IMG_1253

So many priests and religious on fire for their faith!

With Sisters of Jesus Our Hope!

With Sisters of Jesus Our Hope!

Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of them was Sr. Ellen (from Ottawa!)

I gave Sr. Ellen a copy of Emily's Hope for her and all the sisters!

I gave Sr. Ellen a copy of Emily’s Hope for her and all the sisters!

Catholics from all over the world!
We met this wonderful priest and another man from Nigeria!IMG_1158

A fellow CCL teaching couple from India!

Valy and Anna Coelho from India

Valy and Anna Coelho 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!)

With the wonderful team at Courage International

With the wonderful team at Courage International

I loved when attendees came up to my husband to tell him they recognize him from his cartoon!

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing. Please do NOT use without permission

Cartoon copyright James & Ellen Hrkach/Full Quiver Publishing. Please do NOT use without permission

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!

With our friend, Michel McDonald (whose courtship story was included in Come My Beloved!)

With our friend, Michel McDonald (whose courtship story was included in Come My Beloved!)

With Brother Joshua, an author and fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild

With Brother Joshua, an author and fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild

Each Daily Mass was trilingual:
English, Spanish and Vietnamese. With the Mass booklet, I could actually follow along in other languages.Mass booklet

I enjoyed attending Mass with 17,000 fellow CatholicsIMG_1183

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!IMG_1152

Cool architecture and artwork! IMG_1199

copyright 2015 James Hrkach, please do not use without permission

copyright 2015 James Hrkach, please do not use without permission

Low Points

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.

Narrow hallways
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.

Demonstrators
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.

Schedule
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!

Disneyland Atmosphere
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

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