I was one of those very fortunate souls that got a chance to take part in the procession of Pope Francis through Central Park in NYC. The entire experience was, in one word, incredible. There were so many small miracles that took place that day and each one of these miracles ultimately led to an experience that I am not likely to ever forget.
I have been focusing on finishing up my PhD work in preparation for my dissertation this year...so I haven't done a great job of keeping you all posted with everything that has been going on in my life and how my faith has continued to grow and evolve in this time.
Firstly, it is with great sadness that I now mention that my cousin passed away from Ewing's Sarcoma earlier this summer. However, he did squeeze every bit of life out of the time he had left with us and I am sure God has a place for him. He certainly showed a lot of grace in his suffering and I am sure that the amount of suffering he undertook with a smile and a joke was not without purpose. I mention him now because, in my prayers Friday morning I asked his intercession as I prepared for my Central Park Pope Procession adventure after my husband had decided to wear a shirt commemorating my cousin to the procession.
We got to Central Park without a problem, braved the massive line. We were in line before the official entrance time, but there were already blocks of people in line. There was no chance we'd get anywhere near the procession route...but that didn't matter. I was in high spirits. There was no way you could be in low spirits seeing so many people so excited about seeing St. Peter's successor. Several hours later, two chance encounters with two of the right people working security led us to an area of the procession route that had not yet started getting filled up with people. I may get into the reason that caused these two wonderful people to look out for us in a future post...but the long and short of it was we were able to get right at the front on a small stretch of the procession route with room to spare, near the bathrooms, and near the water stations. On top of that, it was an hour or so before they started allowing people to fill out that area.
Several hours passed and in this time, I felt the Holy Spirit moving among the throngs of people. A group of Spanish-speaking Catholics broke out into some hymns at one point, causing me to ugly-cry when they started singing "Pescador de Hombres." This song in particular is a strong reminder of my mom, who used to sing the Portuguese version during Portuguese mass. I ugly cried like there was no tomorrow. Both my sisters and I independently identify this song with her and ever since she passed away, it's been a tearjerker. At that point, I knew that she was with us there too. In between songs, people around us talked about their own experiences and the reasons they were there.
An hour or so before Pope Francis started his procession, a rainbow appeared right above the procession route. As soon as I saw it, I remembered God's promise to Noah in Genesis 9:13 "I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth." This rainbow got bigger as procession time approached. It was beautiful and uplifting. There was just something so transcendent about the entire experience as we waited for Pope Francis.
And then the time came. Being of Portuguese heritage, I took a tissue out so that I could wave it at Pope Francis as he came by. After the snipers, the security, the Fiat, and the rest of the motorcade drove by, the moment came. The crowd surged towards the barriers and I was able to catch a glimpse of the Pope mobile through the crowd of cameras and people along the parade route. There was something transcendent about Pope Francis, something about his presence that made it seem like he was larger than life. I didn't bother fighting with the crowd for "the shot" as he approached. Instead, I just positioned my phone so that it would catch him as he drove by with one hand and waved my tissue with the other as I waited for him to drive past us.
And then it happened. I saw him. He looked a bit tired (which is no surprise considering how the amount of travel and number of events he'd taken part in), but he waved at the cheering masses as if he was not tired. Tears streamed down my face (not an ugly cry, but a gift of tears cry) as I waved at the Vicar of Christ. In a moment that stretched out into eternity, there I was as if I was a small child and I felt a longing and the beginnings of a word stirring in my heart. I found myself calling out the word "Papa" in a small voice as if I was a child and he was a father...not as if I was a grown woman coming to see the leader of the Catholic Church. At that moment, my subconscious knew that Pope Francis was not just a man with a title, as some in the secular world perceive him. At that moment Pope Francis was the rock upon which the church was built, the disciple who recognized that Jesus was the son of God, a father who dedicated his life to a world full of children, the captain steering the Barque of Peter through the stormy seas of an uncertain world. He was the one chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead the world into the Jubilee of Mercy.
As I said before, the experience was incredible.
PS. For video I took, please refer to my Facebook Page. I am having a tough time figuring out how to get video figured out for Blogger.