Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to participate in Mass with Pope Francis Sept. 27, as a conclusion of his visit to the United States and the World Meeting of Families. The Inquirer estimated that the western end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway housed 80,000 to 140,000 people.
The pope delivered the homily in his native Spanish, though large viewing screens supplied English subtitles. He addressed the themes of openness reflected both in the Church and in the biblical readings. “Would that all could be prophets of God’s Word. Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name,” Pope Francis said.
After reaching out to those on the outskirts of society, Pope Francis pointed out that Jesus faced hostility for accepting the “honest and sincere faith” of those not part of Jewish society.
“God desires for all His children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Do not hold back anything that is good. Instead, help it grow,” the Pope went on.
“Holiness is always tied to little gestures. These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion,” he continued.
More than 100,000 communion hosts were prepared for the Mass, although it is unknown how many were given out. The distribution of the holy bread took 15 minutes. Hundreds of Eucharist ministers went out to the attendees to distribute hosts, escorted by Knights of Columbus holding umbrellas in the gold-and-white Vatican colors. Due to the crowd density, not everyone could receive communion.
Despite the presence of 15 checkpoints, Secret-Service-imposed security procedures caused large backups in the line for papal Mass. One checkpoint at 20th and Callowhill streets was originally designated for ticketholders, but was opened to the general public due to the crowding at other locations. People in the crowds, which extended several blocks, were told the wait would be at least two hours. Meanwhile, street vendors happily offered “pope shirts,” “pope flags,” “pope hats” and other merchandise.
Some people wondered why there were fewer checkpoints than there had been the day before, which saw a lower attendance. Others waited for so long that they were cut off altogether from entering the Parkway once Mass began.
“I got here around 8:30 or 9 [a.m.],” Lauren Matlack, one attendant of the papal Mass said. She explained that she had heard the delays had been worsened by technical issues. “I know someone that got in [one of the gates] in five minutes. It took us almost three hours.” Coming in the 20th Street checkpoint, it was almost noon when she entered the event grounds.
Around 3 p.m., with an hour left until Mass, many were feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. “[It’s] tiring,” Matlack explained. “There’s a lot of dust flying around. But, I’m excited.”
People with the coveted seated tickets could go to special checkpoints, bypassing most of the crowd. Despite the high demand, not all ticketed areas were filled, and some of the areas were opened up to the general public.
Despite the wait, Matlack expressed that she found her fellow papal seekers agreeable. “It’s weird to see [a sense of community] in Philadelphia,” she added with a laugh. “People have been very pleasant. … Friendlier than usual.”
Kate McFall and Rebecca Harkring, two fellow attendants of the Mass, agreed. “[W]e’ve got discerners, prepostulants and postulants of the Daughters of Charity here,” McFall said. She explained that the thirteen girls and seven sisters had also attended the concert yesterday. Although McFall and Harkring were unable to speak for long, they expressed their enjoyment of the event. “It’s just like being in a big family,” Harkring said.
The Philadelphia Orchestra and a chorus of 500 singers performed at the Mass, led by the orchestra’s director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Before Mass began, the orchestra performed pieces from Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak, though the service itself featured more traditional Catholic hymns such as “Gift of Finest Wheat” and “Taste and See.”
Andrea Bocelli, who had performed as a soloist the night before, was to join in a song as a chorister during the communion. However, the distribution of Communion was faster than expected, so he simply received the host with the chorus.
“[Pope Francis] is very careful to word things so that he includes people,” Peter Crocco, a first time Philadelphia visitor, commented. “You know, when he speaks he speaks with the purpose to bring everyone in and feel involved in the Church.”
Before the final prayer, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family Vincenzo Paglia announced that the 2018 World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin.
He also invited six families onto the stage that represented six continents during the previous day’s Festival of Families, plus a family of Christian refugees from Syria.
At the end of Mass, Pope Francis promised to pray for those in attendance, but he had a request of his own. “Pray for me,” he said, “Do not forget.”