BLOG: My Experience at the Papal Visit
By: Mike Riccardi
First off, it is great to be back at CitrusTV this year, covering stories and writing blogs! I am honored to write the first piece this year.
Last week, I covered the first leg of Pope Francis’s U.S. visit in Washington D.C., and previewed the remainder of his trip in New York City and Philadelphia. This week, I am back from NYC and Philly to tell you all about it.
Now, I wasn’t in New York City for the Papal Visit, but instead because I had tickets to the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. However, I can tell you this, New York had Francis Fever! There was a noticeable buzz in the city and street vendors on every corner selling pope memorabilia. I even stopped to buy a flag.
Philadelphia too was oozing spirit for the Papal Visit! Unlike New York, almost every single person there that you met was travelling to see the pope. Also, it helped that they were hosting the World Meeting of Families (the largest gathering of Catholics) on American soil for the first time.
I believe the main reason behind the atmospheric differences in these cities had to be the preparedness and security. Philadelphia was expecting more people to enter the city than NYC was, which would make it harder on Philly security. New York, being the epicenter it is cannot shut down everything for the pope. It was obvious that this was not their first rodeo. Philadelphia, needing to be overly cautious due to their lack of experience, shut down much larger areas than New York did.
It was almost like a post-apocalyptic dream in Philadelphia, where there were no cars in the streets, shops were closed for long times of the day, people roamed freely and once in a while a police vehicle would drive by. In contrast, New York just kept trudging on, with the sounds of cars and the maze of feet.
While shutting down the city made the locals upset, Philadelphia was a tourist’s paradise once you were inside! It was so easy to move around, and for the most part, security tents armed by TSA agents moved pretty quickly. Even the train ride into Philly was seamless, however, the exit was a whole other story. Train delays held up tons of people waiting in line to leave as Pope Francis finished Sunday Mass.
Speaking of Mass, I’ll actually start to talk about what happened over the weekend, now that I’ve bored you with the details of logistics!
Saturday morning we arrived in Philly, checked into our hotel and hit the streets, trying to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he left Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. As we moved towards the church, we ran into a blockade where people were gathering, and figured this was a good spot to watch as the pope would move on to Independence Mall. Little did we know, people had started gathering for the Papal parade, eight hours in advance!
Right then and there, we decided to open up our stools, sit in the first row, and wait it out until Pope Francis drove by. We eventually stood as people closed in and tried to barge their way to the front, and by 6:30 p.m., my feet were ready to fall off. There was a “Jumbotron” across the street, so we were able to watch the pope’s speech and entertainment from the World Meeting of Families to pass the time. Finally, at 7 p.m., the motorcade began its route, and we watched as Pope Francis came closer and closer. Once he turned the corner, the crowd erupted and took out their phones, trying to capture what they could, for the few seconds he was passing.
I saw Pope Francis for all of 30 seconds, and although I waited over eight hours, they were some of the most meaningful seconds of my life. What an amazing experience to see Pope Francis, a new idol of mine, only 15 feet away! I felt touched by his words throughout the previous days, and in that moment, I felt a connection to a stronger message.
People then dissipated quickly, and we retired back to our hotel to grab dinner and watch the amazing performance of Andrea Bocelli and the less-than-stellar performance of Aretha Franklin. That night, the World Meeting of Families also featured many inspiring and heartwarming stories of families from all walks of life, who had overcome hardship through their faith.
Sunday was a history buff’s dream, as one could easily access the many historical sites in Philadelphia. Independence Hall, the First Congress Building, the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House were all very interesting places for people to see as Pope Francis was off-location, speaking at a correctional facility. While at these sites, we saw the pope’s helicopter fly by above us, and we knew it was time to head back.
Thousands poured into the street, as it was time for the last event of Pope Francis’s historical U.S. visit, the 4 p.m. Mass at the World Meeting of Families. Only one hundred thousand were lucky enough to get tickets and hop in line for communion, however, it didn’t stop the countless others in Philadelphia from repeating the words they were hearing on the big screen.The most inspiring part about this whole weekend was to not only hear Pope Francis’s words, but to see the gentle and kind nature that he addressed people with, and how he led by humility. It was apparent that others felt this too, as people from all walks of life turned out to see one man. I was especially taken back by the number of people from the Latin American community, who had travelled so far to see the pope, and showed great pride while doing so. People chanted, people applauded and cheered, and people cried tears of joy, all because they were moved by this extraordinary individual.