PHILADELPHIA — So here we are in America’s fifth most populous city and let me tell you, for two journalists from Phoenix, we’re finding stories wherever we go.
We’ve been bumping into pilgrims from Phoenix as we make our way around the Pennsylvania Convention Center, but we’re also seeing people who’ve come here from all over the world for a big dose of inspiration.
The street corners and buildings across this great city are festooned with banners welcoming both the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis. Yesterday, Gina and I were in a bit of a rush to get back to my cousin’s house. She was dying to take us to her parish, Holy Family, to meet her old friend, Bishop Danny Thomas of the Diocese of Toledo. Bishop Thomas grew up in Holy Family Parish, just up the street from where Ann lives, and was going to preside at a Vespers service.
Well, instead of catching the number nine bus, we got on number 42. By the time we’d realized what was happening, we were staring at Drexel University. The bus driver took pity on us and gave us a transfer. We got on the next bus and the driver, Laura, told us we’d have a long walk. That’s when she said it was the end of her shift and that she’d take us to the right stop so we wouldn’t get lost again.
So as you can see, we are having a real adventure here and the people of Philadelphia are playing along. We did make it home in time for Vespers and I was really glad. In the foyer of Holy Family Church is a large statue of St. Lucy, holding her quill and the platter with her eyes gouged out. The statue was taken from the Italian parish in the neighborhood that closed and I felt blessed to be able to stand beside the image of a saint who is dear to me. St. Lucy is a third century martyr who is the patron saint of those with eye diseases. I’ve got a first class relic of her at home and my sister-in-law was completely healed from blindness through St. Lucy’s intercession.
Bishop Thomas said in his homily that his family used to always sit in the seventh pew on the left side of the church every Sunday. Gina and I were in the eighth pew on the left side, so that was kind of cool to imagine Bishop Thomas as a little boy. Did he fidget at Mass, I wonder?
He said his father had proposed to his mother right there in church on Christmas Eve. There were about 300 pilgrims from the Toledo Diocese there in Holy Family Church and Bishop Thomas told Ann and me that he wanted them to understand that his family had been formed in love there within the church’s walls.
My other cousin, the late Fr. Joe Curran, also grew up in this parish. He was born in Ann’s house where we are staying and if he were alive today, he’d be 100 years old. Ann keeps a portrait of him hanging in the hall of her home.
Today we saw the not-so-perfect side of family life at the World Meeting. I attended two break out sessions: one on how to forgive within families and the other on addiction. At both talks, people came forward afterward to share their own struggles and pain. One nun spoke of her fears that her nephews would be lost to addiction. When she first got to the microphone, it took her several moments to gain her composure. There was a palpable sympathy in the room and I’d say that most people were there because they or a loved one had fought addiction. Powerful presentation and food for thought, that’s for certain.
Tonight we’re going to try to catch up with a few more Phoenix pilgrims. We ran into Ryan Hanning and his family a little earlier. They had been fighting traffic — it’s not easy trying to find parking for a 12-passenger van — but were full of joy and enthusiasm. And why not? This place is just bursting with faith, hope and love.
Follow Joyce Coronel on Twitter at @JoyceCoronel.