Diocese of Jackson pilgrims reflect on attending World Meeting of Families, papal Mass

Editor’s Note: Many Diocese of Jackson families, pastors and groups attended the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia during the Papal visit. The staff asked Group leaders and attendees to reflect on the trip. In this issue, the staff has selected excerpts from their reflections on the meeting, the Festival of Families and the Papal Mass to conclude the meeting.

Father Gregory Plata
The word “Catholic” was first used by Ignatius of Antioch in 107 AD, meaning universal, to describe the nascent, but quickly growing Christian church. That description could not have been more pointed than what was witnessed during September’s World Meeting of Families and visit by Pope Francis to the city of Philadelphia. Catholics from around the world, representing every country, race and culture, came to share ideas of how to strengthen family bonds, and apply the teachings of Jesus Christ in their every day life. This gathering also included 17 pilgrims from Greenwood, representing the Catholic families of St. Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Heart of Mary parishes.
I have to say I was very proud of my home city and the way they presented themselves. Everyone, from the police force to the public transit workers to street cleaners could not have been more accommodating. Philadelphians don’t always have a good reputation due to the vociferous nature of their sports fans, but I think this week changed that perception.
Led by Father Greg Plata, OFM, who pastors both parishes, the pilgrims arrived on Thursday evening, September 24, staying in Wilmington, DE, a stone’s throw from Central Philadelphia. On Friday, the group spent the day following Father Plata, a native of Philadelphia and history buff, who showed them around the historical area of the city. The group also had an opportunity savor the iconic Philadelphia cheese steak, as well as other Philly foods such as soft pretzels with mustard.
On Saturday, September 26th, the group from Greenwood merged with thousands of people of various denominations and cultures who converged on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Festival of Families event. Before the presentations and concert began that evening, Pope Francis traveled through the central part of Philadelphia, greeted by thunderous applause and shouts of joy from thousands after addressing the various dignitaries and a large crowd gathered at Independence Mall. That evening’s concern included songs performed by Aretha Franklin, who did a rousing rendition of Amazing Grace, to Italian tenor Andrea Boccelli. Mixed between the concerts were families representing five continents, who shared with Pope Francis their joys and struggles. The pope warmly welcomed each. One of the most touching was a family from the Ukraine, who brought their handicapped son in his wheelchair, stating that their son, Boris, was the joy of their life, and how they felt blessed by God to have such a child despite his physical disabilities.
On Sunday, September 27th, the group from Mississippi headed out early for the Papal Mass. Dropped off at the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia, the group traveled by subway to a designated point, and then walked to one of the security check points for entrance into the Parkway. Once again, a throng of thousands had converged on the city, some waiting for hours to gain entrance into the Parkway. Despite the long wait, there was a true sense of peace and patience as one of the greatest gathering of Christians joined for this historic event.
Before Mass, Pope Francis had visited one of the area prisons, bringing a message of hope to the inmates
Crowd size was hard to estimate for the Mass, but a figure was put as high at one million, which included those who were not able to get into the Parkway and were on the periphery. Large screens were set up throughout the Parkway, giving thousands access to sight and sound during the Mass.
“As Catholics, we are taught from an early age to show respect and reverence of worship during the Mass,” commented Fr. Plata. “I was amazed at the silence of so many people, and their participation at Mass through singing and responses to the prayers.”
Responses to the Mass were sung in Latin, which proved a universal language still remembered by many in the church and allowed more participation by people who spoke various languages and were in attendance.
While security was tight, those involved ranging from the local police department to the Secret Service could not have been more amenable and helpful. It seemed as if the pope’s visit created an infectious attitude of serenity and respect among all people.
“I think our group was profoundly affected by this experience, and the positive messages of Pope Francis during his many talks,” stated Fr. Greg. “It made me even more proud to be a part of the Catholic church, and to have had the privilege of sharing these joy filled days with my Catholic sisters from Mississippi.”
(Father Plata is the pastor of Greenwood St. Francis of Assisi and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parishes.)