St. Mary's youth group humbled by Pope Francis

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If you're Facebook friends with any teens in the area, don't be surprised to see their original photos of the Holy Father in your newsfeed.

More than 600 local teens from 34 youth groups participated in a pilgrimage organized by the diocesan Youth Ministry Office to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia. Arriving late the night of Sept. 25, the teens took part in the papal activities on Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sept. 26 and Sept. 27.

Prior to Pope Francis' Sept. 27 Mass, three teens from St. Mary Church in Alexandria offered their comments about their experience.

Anna Aguto, 15, a sophomore at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, said the most exciting part of the pilgrimage was "being in the presence of Pope Francis."

"He radiates humility and love while delivering a simple message," she said. "He's so personable. He even cracks jokes. I've also loved spending all this time with people I love (from my youth group)."

Aguto also took note of the throngs of other pilgrims.

"There's everyone's enthusiasm, too, saying things like 'I will jump over the fence to see Pope Francis.' Everyone is so excited and so nice," she said.

Anna Johnson, 15, a sophomore at Bishop Ireton School in Alexandria, said that what impressed her more than even seeing Pope Francis was witnessing the community that had gathered in Philadelphia.

"People were dancing in the streets," she said. "The joy in their faces was really beautiful - especially for the people who had been camping out for hours. Here in Philly, we're unified as Catholics. We're strangers, but people will act like you've known them for a while."

Maeze McCale, 17, a senior at Brookewood School in Kensington, Md., said she never will forget the anticipation she felt waiting to see Pope Francis.

"Nobody even comes close to the pope," she said. "We had to go through such intense security, but it didn't matter because just seeing him felt like a one-on-one experience."

"It's been so cool to see people here," she added. "Some people hate Pope Francis, but more people - most people - love him."

"The trip was quite beautiful; it has truly been a pilgrimage," said Natalie Plumb, digital and social media coordinator for the Arlington Diocese, who shadowed St. Mary's youth group during the trip. "We are running on little sleep. We staked-out for unpredictable wait times.

"But if you ask any teen here, he or she will tell you it was worth it," she added. "A good number of them screamed with joy after seeing Pope Francis pass close-by in his popemobile. As an adult, they inspire me with joy."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015