Pilgrimage to Philadelphia

BannerThis weekend I was blessed to be in Philadelphia for the Pope’s visit at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. I do not think words can express how amazing the whole experience was, but I am still going to try – even if it gets a bit lengthy! Going into this trip, we fully expected to be back on a side street somewhere watching the proceedings on a screen. While we would have been perfectly content with this, our experience exceeded all expectations and was more than I had hoped for!

The group from our diocese left early Saturday morning on our bus. This truly was a pilgrimage and each bus trip had time spent in wonderful prayer and song. After arriving at  our campground, unloading, and eating a late lunch, we broke into smaller groups and headed into the city. It took about 45 minutes for our bus to get to the main parking lot at the Philadelphia Sports Complex. From there we took the subway into town. Saturday we knew we would not get close to the main stage for the Festival of Families so instead we headed towards City Hall where Pope Francis would be passing by in a Papal parade that evening.

Pope FrancisWe found a spot about five rows back from the gate to the street where he would pass by and waited. The crowd was large but not overwhelming and everyone was so friendly and joyful! You could hear in the distance the immense cheers as Pope Francis’s motorcade got closer to our spot and we all got our cameras ready. He went by pretty quickly and was looking on the other side of the street when he passed but it was still amazing to be so close to the Holy Father! Being a bit shorter, I could see him mostly through my camera which I held up high and succeeded in getting a (slightly blurry) photo as he rode by. Our small group of eight was amazed at how close we had been!   We walked a few blocks to a large jumbotron to watch the Festival from there. We saw him (on the jumbotron screen) speak at the Festival and stayed to watch a few performances before heading back to our bus.

SongThe next morning we woke up, ate, and made lunches for the day. Again we boarded the bus but this time when we arrived at the parking lot we were instantly aware that today the crowds would be much larger. With this in mind, and being fully convinced we would have to find a jumbotron far from the action, we took our time to keep our group together as we journeyed on. The subway station was packed and the lines long but the atmosphere was so filled with joy and excitement that we didn’t even care! We met people from near and far, Quebec, Pennsylvania, Dominican Republic, Chicago, and even some fellow pilgrims from Ohio!

When we got into the city, we headed towards the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We found a security checkpoint but had to walk along the line to try and find the end of it! As we walked, we came to a block with angry protesters on each side. With their megaphones, yelling, and hateful signs, perhaps they thought they would discourage us. But walking by them only made the experience even richer as we joined together, the whole line of us, in singing the Our Father over and over until we passed their section. It was such a beautiful thing to see people so filled with love and joy in the Lord joining in song and prayer together without even stopping to pay any mind to those who were against us. ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ Romans 8:31

CrowdThe line was so long and there was no end in sight when we passed one of the many military members helping in the security efforts. As we passed, we heard him say that the checkpoint one block over was just being opened to the general public (it had previously been for ticketed guests only.) Our group cut over a block and got in the (much shorter) security line. We could not believe this blessing! We made it through security and were amazed at how close we were. Since we were so close to the ticketed area that each of us received a mass booklet as well! We had not been anticipating this at all!

Our first spotWe found a spot on the corner right in front of a large jumbotron that was directly behind the ticketed area. We literally were as close as non-ticketed guests were able to get! We set up our blankets and chairs. There was a sewer vent right near our spot and one of the volunteers informed us that since we were “in limbo land” we would not have access to any restrooms. The restrooms were either closer up in the ticketed area, or we would have to go out to the non-ticketed area behind us which would require going through security again. Despite this, we decided to stay at our spot.   We ate our lunches and then decided we would say a rosary together. We had just begun the first three Hail Marys of our group rosary when that same volunteer came up to our group. She told us to quickly gather our things, there was additional room in the ticketed section and they were going to let us in!

Our final spot for MassWe scooped up our blanket and quickly went forward. We ended up setting up a spot right behind the handicapped viewing area. We were close enough that you could see the art museum ahead of us and could make out the crucifix on the altar for mass! We were so thankful and thrilled! We finished eating and finished our rosary. We had plenty of time still until mass so we began to sing. One of the members in our group had put together a booklet of popular hymns that we had been singing earlier on the bus. We took out our booklets and started singing. People around us began to join in. It was beautiful.

From our spot, not only could we see the altar, but we were also right by a huge jumbotron where we Pope Francis in his procession before Masscould see the mass up close. We saw on the screen that Pope Francis was beginning his procession prior to mass. We watched in anticipation for him to pass by our spot as he slowly went through the crowds, stopping to kiss several babies along the way. When he was nearing our spot, I held my camera up above me but did not stop to look through it. I clicked away figuring I will get whatever photo I get. I wanted to watch the Holy Father pass by with my own eyes. He went much slower this time and was facing our direction so that we got a clear view of his joyful self, greeting all of us with love.

After the procession it was time for mass. The mass was more beautiful than I could ever describe. It is said that during mass we are the closest to heaven. All I can say is that you could truly feel that. Celebrating mass with a million people, not to mention the millions who watched from their homes, and with Pope Francis! It was beyond words. The readings were in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese, with some of the prayers in English and the Eucharistic liturgy all in Latin. The Holy Father gave his homily in his native Spanish. The jumbotron had translated captions along the bottom so we could follow along.

When it was time for communion, the priests who were distributing the Eucharist were signified in the crowd by yellow and white umbrellas held high above them. To see over a thousand yellow and white umbrellas as they made their way through the crowd for people from all over the world to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist was so moving. As we began to sing the communion hymns and made our way to the nearest umbrella I felt tears in my eyes. How awesome to celebrate this most Blessed Sacrament with so many others in one place together! Before mass ended, we received our blessing from Pope Francis.

The crowds leaving Philadelphia after Mass were certainly large but it was so well organized and everyone was so joyful that we didn’t mind. People were singing and laughing and celebrating together all the way back to the bus. You could truly feel the Holy Spirit among us all this weekend.

It is hard to describe our pilgrimage to Philadelphia. The photos don’t do it justice and while I pray my words express what we felt, I know they cannot. It was not about just seeing the Pope. It was not about getting as close as possible (although I am incredibly thankful that we were blessed to be as close as we were!) This was about worshiping together with so many people, led in prayer by our dear Pope Francis. It was an experience filled with prayer, love, and the joy of the Lord. It was inspiring and truly life-changing.

Glory to God for watching over us all this weekend! Thanks and praise for the wonderful blessings we received on this trip. And thank you to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for inspiring us all each day by your words and your actions. For helping to draw the Church closer to Christ. And for coming here to America with your message of love and mercy. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it.


Pope Francis in the US – What’s the Big Deal?

Pope_FrancisPope Francis arrived in the United States on Tuesday and it seems it is all people can talk about!  The media is covering all papal events almost non-stop, thousands upon thousands of people are flocking to see him, and Pope Francis themed memorabilia has popped up all over the place.  It seems clear that the United States definitely has Pope Fever!

But what’s the big deal anyway?  Why do so many people, Catholic or not, even care about the Pope?  Who is the Pope to begin with?

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  Matthew 16:15-18

Jesus, while He was still on earth, chose Peter as the rock to build His Church upon. Peter became the leader of Christ’s Church.  Not above Christ, but to lead the Church to Christ.  Jesus knew He would not be on earth forever. He knew that there would be many trials to face the Church here on earth.  And He knew that throughout the good times and bad, the Church would need someone to look to as a leader here on earth.  Someone to dedicate their lives to following the Lord and to leading His Church ever closer to Him.   That is what it means to be Pope.

The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.LUMEN GENTIUM, 23

The Pope is chosen by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into deeper communion with one another and with the Lord.  We can look back at the history of our Church and see the line of those who have followed in Peter’s footsteps to lead the Church.  From St. Peter to St. Linus to St. Anacletus (Cletus) and so on, all the way to our current Pope Francis, these men have dedicated their lives to the Church. (Click here for a full list of popes).

While all of that should certainly be enough to excite anyone about meeting one of the popes, Pope Francis in particular draws large crowds due to his down to earth attitude and his constant example of practicing that which he preaches.  To listen to him speak, to watch him in his interactions with others, you know that he truly lives out his Catholic faith. Quite simply, he lives striving to be more and more like Christ.  And in his words and actions, he inspires us all to do the same.

So is it really that big of a deal that Pope Francis is here in the United States?  Yes!  The successor to Peter, chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead our Catholic Church, daily living his life as an outward example of that which we are all striving to achieve, has come to the United States!  To our own home!  This is most certainly a big deal!  Our nation is in need of prayer.  In need of an increase in faith and a return to the Lord. I believe that the immense excitement surrounding the Pope’s visit serves as proof of just how badly this country needs to return to its founding Christian principles.

I pray that the Lord guide Pope Francis and protect him as he addresses our Congress today, the United Nations tomorrow, and the millions who are coming to see him in DC, New York, and Philadelphia (where I will be!).  I pray that all who hear him speak, whether in person or through the radio and television, are touched by his words and inspired to live out the Gospel in their lives, growing closer to Christ each day.  And I thank the Lord for the blessing of having His Holiness Pope Francis here in our country.  It truly is a big deal.

If you are interested in following more of the Pope’s journey here in the United States, I encourage you to visit the USCCB website for streaming video, news articles, prayers suggestions and more. 

Created in God’s Image

in His imageThere is so much attention placed on our bodies.  Countless articles, books, and videos are dedicated to helping people have the “perfect” body.  The media tells us what makeup to wear so your eyes will pop, what hairstyle best compliments your face shape, what type of jean is most flattering, what exercises will make you look red-carpet-ready in the shortest time and with the least effort put forth.

We are so much more than our bodies. So much more than our outward appearance!  Our bodies, in all shapes and sizes, are created in God’s own image!

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 1:27

How beautiful is that?  God created all things.  Trees that reach up to the heavens, birds that sing so sweetly, fish that glide through the waters.  Our loving Creator took what was nothing but a “formless void” (Gn. 1:2) and out of nothing, created such astounding beauty!  And yet, while the beauty of nature and animals is certainly awesome, God made human beings something more.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14)  Not just another part of creation, humans were created separately, in the very image of God Himself!

As such, we are called to treat our own bodies with dignity and respect.  In fact, our bodies are not just empty shells but are the temple of the Holy Spirit!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Created in God’s own image with our bodies as a temple for the Holy Spirit dwelling among us.  How amazing!  If we were only to remember these facts how different would we live our lives?

If we looked upon every human life as created in God’s image, how could we turn a blind eye to abortion, to refugees struggling for a better life, to those who are starving, homeless, or sick?

If we saw ourselves as the temple to the Holy Spirit within us, how could we possibly abuse and degrade our bodies?

What if, instead of focusing on the latest fad diet, we put that time and energy into glorifying God in our bodies?

We need to see God in ourselves and in those around us that we may be more mindful of our actions and words.  More respectful of all life.  More the person God created each of us to be.  More like Christ. For we are created in the very image of God.

“Let us be very sincere in our dealings with each other, and have the courage to accept each other as we are. Do not be surprised or become preoccupied at each other’s failures – rather, see and find in each other the good, for each one of us is created in the image of God.” Blessed Mother Teresa

Answers to Prayers

Whenever discussing our struggle with infertility, I always remind myself that I know God has a plan and we will have a baby.  Recently I was asked how I can be so sure of that despite all the obstacles we have faced and are still facing.  I have faced the same questions myself on more than one occasion.  Every time I begin to look down another path and give up on becoming a mother, something happens that  calls me to be patient and continue on my journey.  It may be some good medical news, a particular verse in the Bible that seems to jump out at me, or someone sharing a story of their own struggles.  But each time, I am reassured that being a mother is in fact my call.  Even so, it is certainly difficult to remember at times.

Almost a year ago I was having a very hard time with it all.  I decided to delve deeper into my faith and make an honest effort to keep myself truly open to whatever God’s will may be.  Around that time my parish women’s group was beginning the 33 Days to Morning Glory retreat in preparation for Marian Consecration by Father Michael Gaitley.  And I decided to participate.

MaryThe purpose of the retreat is to bring you closer to Mother Mary, and thus grow closer to Christ.  My mother participated in the retreat long distance.  She and I would discuss the daily readings and I would call her after each weekly meeting with my women’s group to tell her what we talked about.  In late November, while in the midst of our retreat, my mother called me early one morning to tell me something wonderful.

She told me that the previous night, she had a visit from Our Lady.  She was unable to see her face but could see her robes, could hear her voice, and knew without a doubt that it was Mary.  This was not a dream.  It was more than that. In her visit, she told my mother to let me know that she sees my pain, she knows how deeply I long for a child and that I will have a baby!  She did not say how.  She did not say when.  But she did say how important it was to remember my blessings and to keep praying because our prayers are so very powerful.  She said that there is something else that must be finished first, but that I should not be sad because God hears my prayers and I will have a child.

Now some might say that is just a dream but I know it was more than that.  The peace that my mother felt and that I had upon her telling me this was surely from God.  I truly believe that the Mother of Our Lord came to my own mother here on earth to deliver a message for me, in a way that perhaps only a mother can.

The message from Mother Mary was an answer to my prayers.  I didn’t find out when or how I would become a mother. And almost a year later, I still am not pregnant.  It can be tempting sometimes to say that my prayers have not yet been answered but I know that is not the case.

I was at a crossroads praying for direction.  My heart and soul longed to be a mother and I felt such pain in the thought of letting go of that dream.  I believe I was led by the Holy Spirit to participate in this retreat because through the 33 Days, I found myself letting go of more and more of my own desires.  I was giving more of myself up in preparation to fully give myself to Jesus through Mary at our consecration.  And by opening my heart up in this way, I received the answer to my prayers.

I received confirmation that motherhood was indeed my calling.  And just as important, perhaps even more so, was the message to remember my blessings and to continue on in prayer.  There have been many struggles since then and many times when I do not know how in the world I will become a mother.  There are times when it seems like I should give up.  But I remember the message from Our Lady and hold tight to my hope and faith in Jesus Christ who I know hears and answers my prayers.

Answers to prayers come in many forms.  It might be the answer you were looking for.  It might be a gentle nudge to move in another direction. It might be the pull to a particular Bible verse that speaks to your heart.  For me, I am incredibly thankful for the blessing of Our Lady in her visit to my mother which uplifted my spirit, renewed my hope, and led me to a greater faith in her Son, Jesus Christ who gives me the strength I need to continue on my journey.

Franciscan Prayer for Our Lady of Sorrows


I wanted to share this beautiful Franciscan prayer on this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The text is recognizable from being chanted during Lent. But in reading it here with the beautiful and piercing image of Our Lady that accompanies this post, the words truly touched my heart.

Originally posted on Dating God:

Our_Lady_of_SorrowssmallOn this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I share with you the famous prayer-poem The Stabat Mater, written by the Franciscan poet Jacapone da Todi, OFM in the thirteenth century. It is likely very familiar to many who have sung or chanted this text during Lent at the Stations of the Cross (another Franciscan devotion) or on Good Friday.

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.

Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
‘Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her…

View original 186 more words

A Prayer for September 11 – Pope Benedict


O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and  traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here— the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police  officers, emergency service workers, and Port  Authority personnel, along with all the innocent  men and women who were victims of this  tragedy simply because their work or service  brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.

Pope Benedict XIV–Prayer at Ground Zero
New York, 20 April 2008

All God’s Children

imageIt seems whenever Pope Francis so much as opens his mouth, the media already has a story written. And if he happens to mentions, even just once, any topic that could be in any way seen as “new” or “liberal”, the headlines explode.

The truth is that when we actually read the things he has to say, we realize that he is not changing Catholic doctrine. He is not suddenly disregarding thousands of years of Church teaching. Instead, he is reminding us of what truly matters.

We are all human and therefore all sinners. God did not send His Son to die only for those who have “small” sins. Jesus came to die so that all of us may live. There is nothing any one of us can do that is outside the mercy and forgiveness of Christ.

We say these words, we think that we know and believe them. But for many, seeing someone commit a certain sin, a sin that we deem “too great”, makes it near impossible to look beyond the sin itself and see the person.  As we are taught by the Lord, it is the person behind the sin that we are called to love. That does not mean we pretend sin does not happen. We can disagree with a behavior, we can charitably let it be known that something goes against our beliefs, we can even actively work to try and end a common culture of sinful behavior. But while we may know an action is wrong, we are not the judge of that person’s soul. Only God is.

Our job is not to decide who is worthy of forgiveness. And thank goodness for that! We all make mistakes. What we might think is a minor thing, someone else may see as a major flaw in our lives. I certainly would not want someone to take every moment of failure in my life and line it up as a representation of who I am. Because I am not my failings. I am more than that. We all are.

We are children of God. Each and every one of us is created in His image. Before we go about hating, judging, or alienating someone for their past actions, let us take a moment to see them as God sees them. To see the child He created who has wandered from the path. To see the person underneath all the troubles that Mother Mary is guiding ever so gently back to her Son. To see the person that Jesus loves enough to die for!

This is what Pope Frances is calling us to do. To stop seeing someone for the wrongs they have done and instead to see the person they were created to be. If we were to look upon and treat everyone we came into contact with as a beloved child of God, we would not need to lecture them on their sins. They would see the light of Christ within us by our actions and words towards them!

Whether it is someone we see on the news, someone we see on the sidewalk, or someone we know in real life, we are called to shine the light of Christ and to love all of God’s children. I pray that following in the footsteps of Christ and led here on earth by Pope Francis, we all may learn to be more forgiving, more charitable, and more welcoming to all of God’s children.