O'Connell students make papal pilgrimage

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On the morning of Sept. 26, close to 200 students, chaperones and faculty from Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington boarded buses to Philadelphia to participate in the World Meeting of Families and the papal Mass. The group stayed in Havertown, Pa., as guests of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church and St. Denis Church, where two faculty members, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Tracey Uphoff and Greg Haas, grew up.

The O'Connell pilgrims attended the Festival of Families in downtown Philadelphia to listen to Pope Francis' speeches on religious freedom and on families.

In addition to the Holy Father's speech, the evening was filled with inspirational presentations and music, including performances by The Fray and Sister Sledge. The event also included stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan and a speech by celebrity Mark Wahlberg.

One of the most memorable moments for the group was when Pope Francis appeared on Ben Franklin Parkway. When the moment arrived, the night was illuminated by the flashing cameras, followed by a parade of police cruisers, and, then finally, the popemobile. O'Connell student Kathryn Baker remembered how she felt when she saw the pope in person: "Pope Francis inspires me to love people more and be more kind to everyone."

The next morning, the O'Connell group packed their things and loaded onto the buses to head to the papal Mass. Arriving downtown, they found the streets overflowing with other pilgrims. Some groups waited for hours to pass through security only to move closer by a few city blocks. Other lucky groups made it through security in time for Mass and were able to receive the Eucharist. Emma Meng said her favorite part of the Mass was "the many different languages and how multicultural and global it was." The Mass on the parkway involved more than 1 million people and included three different languages.

As the pilgrims headed back to Arlington after a tiring 30 hours, they were reminded of Pope Francis' message: "You know what God loves most? To knock on the door of families and to find families who love each other - families who bring up their children to grow and move forward - who create, who develop a society of truth, goodness, and beauty."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015