From papal Mass to Catholic masses, Philadelphia turns into the city of peace, humility and love
By Emily Booker
Whether priest or parishioner, Catholics traveling to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families – as well as those at home in the Diocese of Knoxville – were touched by witnessing Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States.
Three diocesan priests, Father Michael Cummins, Father Colin Blatchford, and Father Arthur Torres Barona, had the special opportunity to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis held at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Sunday, Sept. 27.
Father Cummins, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport, attended the World Meeting of Families as a gift given to him by friends to commemorate his 20th anniversary of ordination.
“Being able to concelebrate a Mass with Pope Francis was a great way to mark 20 years as a priest,” he said. “A papal Mass is truly a unique celebration that gives witness to both the universality of our Church by gathering with fellow Christians from all over the world and the unity of our Church expressed in the person of the pope and his brother bishops.”
This is not the first time Father Cummins has been able to take part in Mass with the pope. He also concelebrated the papal Mass at World Youth Day in Toronto with St. John Paul II in 2002 and the papal Mass for the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
“These celebrations have been a blessing for me in my journey of discipleship and priesthood, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity,” Father Cummins said.
Father Blatchford and Father Torres Barona traveled with a group of pilgrims from the diocese to the World Meeting of Families.
Father Blatchford considered the concluding Mass with Pope Francis the highlight of the trip.
“It was very nice to concelebrate with the pope and sort of share in that collegial, liturgical function, kind of like what we do with the bishop at the Chrism Mass but in a different way, because this was with the pope, of course,” Father Blatchford said.
The experience is a highlight of his young priesthood, Father Torres Barona said.
“To me it is such a blessing, you know. It is a blessing because I never ever in my life thought that I would be able to concelebrate a mass with the pope. I consider this a ‘momentum vitae.’ It’s a moment in my life, a historical moment that has marked my heart, and I’m going to carry it all my life,” Father Torres Barona said.
“I was very close to him because we were on the same stage that they prepare for the Mass so I was two pews behind the bishops. I saw everything. I saw him sitting, getting up, celebrating the Mass himself, his preaching also, his homily.”
He said that concelebrating a Mass that was being televised to millions of people made him a bit nervous, but that it was also exciting. He said for an instant he hesitated at distributing Communion because he didn’t want to make a mistake in front of the pope, such as let the Holy Eucharist fall to the floor, but made the most of his opportunity. “All the older priests went to distribute Communion, and that was beautiful.”
Assisting with Communion at the papal Mass were diocesan Deacons Bob Lange, Gordy Lowery and Otto Preske.
Students from both Catholic high schools in the diocese traveled to Philadelphia as well. Thirty-five students from Notre Dame High School with five chaperones, including Father Scott Russell, attended the World Meeting of Families.
There were also 46 students from Knoxville Catholic High School with five chaperones, including Father Christopher Manning.
The students traveled by bus as did adult diocesan parishioners who traveled separately.
Father Manning said the highlight of the pilgrimage for the students was actually seeing Pope Francis in person. “There’s something about Pope Francis that draws millions,” he said. “Joy brings joy. Holiness attracts holiness.”
Father Peter Iorio, pastor at St. Mary Parish in Johnson City, attended the papal events in Washington, D.C.
In Washington, Bishop Richard F. Stika concelebrated the canonization Mass for St. Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with Pope Francis and other bishops.
Social media updates and live streaming of the events helped those at home follow Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families.
At Holy Trinity in Jefferson City, the Council of Catholic Women hosted live streams of the papal Masses for people to watch at the church. Parishioner Donna Dunn had been working to set up streams of religious programs at the parish.
Mike Colicchio, an EWTN media missionary, realized that Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States was just such an opportunity.
Mrs. Dunn and her husband, Gene, had the skills to set up streaming at the church. Mr. Colicchio got in touch with EWTN, which was very interested in and supportive of the parish’s plan.
The CCW invited parishioners at Holy Trinity as well as surrounding parishes to watch the papal Masses together. There were refreshments afterward so that people could gather for fellowship and discussion.
Mrs. Dunn noted that Mass is when the Church gathers, so it’s good to gather at church for a Mass, even if it’s on TV.
Mr. Colicchio said that watching in a church setting is different than watching at home, where there are often distractions. “A religious environment means more, makes it feel more spiritual,” he said. “At home it’s like watching a movie. It doesn’t come across as spiritual as we’d like.”
He added that watching a live stream, especially with others, made a real impact, even for those not in Philadelphia.
He said, “To see the pope live, there’s a feeling there that you’re right with him.”
Parishioner Cecile Passi was one of the pilgrims to make the trip to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis, something she’ll “remember forever,” she said.
“The first day we saw the pope on the road I could not even take pictures. As soon as I saw him I just got teary-eyed,” Ms. Passi said, noting that she also saw the pope the next day, which left her feeling even more amazed at witnessing the pope in action.
“This experience is once in a lifetime. I will never forget it,” she said, adding that she would make the pilgrimage again as she described what draws her to the pontiff.
“Oh, his humility really; his kindness, and hearing about his interest in the poor and immigrants. I can relate to that because I am one of them. I used to be an immigrant,” she said. “Just by looking at his face, it’s a feeling you get that you can say to everybody, ‘this is the pope we can lean on.’”
Patty Johnson had been looking forward to the pilgrimage for some time.
She was one of the some 70 adult diocesan pilgrims who made the trip to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis.
But for Mrs. Johnson, the pilgrimage had a bit more meaning. She was going to see in person the pope who had honored her earlier this year.
Bishop Stika presented Mrs. Johnson with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest honor a pope can bestow on Church laity, during a Mass and ceremony at St. John Neumann Church in Farragut in April.
Mrs. Johnson has led the Council of Catholic Women at all levels, locally, regionally and nationally.
“We prepared for this for over a year,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We’re very thankful that our diocese took the initiative (to organize the trip). … I feel like Pope Francis is very special. He delivers a message of love and compassion. And I think he shows us the way we should live our lives in this day and time. That’s very exciting to me. I received his papal medal in April, and that was such a surprise and an honor. Now, to see him in person is even more exciting.”
Alice Mancini also was moved by Pope Francis’ presence at the World Meeting of Families. The parishioner at St. John XXIII University Parish and Catholic Center in Knoxville said there are not enough words to describe her feelings.
“My favorite thing was the pope’s speech on Saturday night. We found out later that it was an impromptu speech, which was overwhelming. The whole conference was about ‘Love Is Our Mission.’ And he talked about how God is love and how we, as families and being the source of that love, must care for – and these are his words, los niños and los abuelos, because children are our future and the elderly are the foundation of our history, so it was a wonderful message,” Mrs. Mancini said.
Jim Wogan contributed to this report.