Just over a week has passed since 18 Boscobel Catholics returned from the City of Brotherly Love on a pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families—and they’re still feeling the love of both the city of Philadelphia and Pope Francis.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Rachel Biba.
“It was the greatest experience ever,” echoed Olivia Dremsa.
Rachel and Olivia were joined by fellow Boscobel High School students Beth and Joelle Bohringer, Maryanna O’Neill, Olivia Grassel, Trae Sander, Erin Beck and home schooler Augusta VandeHey. Adult chaperones included Bob and Julie Biba, Pam and Tom Waltz, Penny Bohringer, Janet Mindham, Susan Beck, Theresa Brewer, Kandace McGrath and Julie Burnett.
The group from Immaculate Conception Church was part of a two motor coach group from the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse that left Prairie du Chien on September 24. They traveled 20 hours through the day and night to see Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia—an international festival that featured speakers, dancers and musicians. The highlights of the weekend included a speech by Pope Francis at Independence Hall, the Pope’s appearance at a parade in downtown Philadelphia and Sunday’s Papal Mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Ideas for the Pilgrimage began many months ago when the youth heard that Pope Francis was coming to Philadelphia,” said Penny Bohringer. “It was their enthusiasm and interest that started the planning process. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the Corpus Christi Parish in helping the youth to fundraise for this trip.”
And also, perhaps, without a bit of divine intervention.
First of all, when they got to Philadelphia they thought they had tickets to the Pope’s Independence Hall speech. It turns out they didn’t, but they decided to walk the four miles from Citizen Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies play and the bus from their campground outside the city dropped them off, to the festival grounds.
“The walk got us in pilgrimage mode,” said Tom Waltz.
When they reached the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia—the Patron Saint of difficult and nearly impossible tasks—they stopped and prayed for tickets to see the Pope’s speech. Those prayers were answered.
“I was just walking and a man asked if we had tickets,” recalls Joelle Bohringer. “I said we didn’t and he gave me six tickets.”
Waltz also came across some tickets and the entire group was able to hear Pope Francis speak.
“Our group was touched by Pope Francis’ inspiring message of love and tolerance for everyone,” said Susan Beck. “He stressed that we need to begin in our families for that is where love begins. We need to do little acts of kindness every day. We were challenged to stop judging and just do God’s work.”
They successfully returned by subway to Citzen Bank Park with the group intact, in large part due to the kindness of the Philadelphians they met.
“The people of Philadelphia were amazing,” said Pam Waltz. “Their hospitality and patience was incredible.”
After a fulfilling Saturday, the group returned to Independence Hall on Sunday for the Papal Mass, securing front row seats on the street and waiting six hours to see the pope for about as many seconds.
“It was worth every long hour we waited in order to be in the front row as Pope Francis when by us riding in his Popemobile,” said Beck. “Our only wish at that moment was that they would have driven at a slower speed so that we could have seen his warm and loving smile for a little bit longer.”
“You could really feel the energy,” said Trae Sander. “You cold tell he was coming from blocks away by the screams. The amount of security was incredible.”
There were to be no security issues, and despite a crowd of nearly two million people filling the streets of downtown Philadelphia, there was total silence during the Mass, even from spectators watching on the Jumbotron.
“We were amazed by the reverence shown and how the streets with almost two million people were silent during the consecration of the Eucharist and the two moments of silence asked for during the two-hour long Mass,” added Beck. “It was a Mass we will all remember as we celebrated with people from many different nations. The sign of peace was so touching as strangers from around the world wished each other peace with hugs, kisses on the cheek and handshakes.”
The group arrived home in Boscobel last Monday evening after another long bus drive, but with memories that will last a lifetime.
“I am just so impressed with these kids,” said Tom Waltz. “They were just stellar. You couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Several of them are already making plans to see Pope Francis at the next World Meeting of Families.
“I can’t wait to see him in Dublin in 2018. It’s going to be awesome,” said Rachel Biba.