April 25, 2008

Christ our Hope: Apostolic Journey to the United States 2008

Pilgrims of all ages make trip to nation’s capital for papal Mass

Lumen Christi Catholic School students in Indianapolis pose for a group picture on April 16 on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The students and chaperones also participated in the April 17 Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at Nationals Park in Washington. (Submitted photo/Tom Feick)

Lumen Christi Catholic School students in Indianapolis pose for a group picture on April 16 on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The students and chaperones also participated in the April 17 Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at Nationals Park in Washington. (Submitted photo/Tom Feick)

By Mary Ann Wyand

Archdiocesan pilgrims of all ages said they were energized by feelings of joy and hope on April 16-17 when they saw Pope Benedict XVI in Washington.

A Saint Mary-of-the-Woods employee, two Lumen Christi Catholic School students from Indianapolis, an Indiana University sophomore from Terre Haute, two sisters from Richmond and Indianapolis, a 91-year-old Indianapolis woman, and a Malaysian immigrant described their pilgrimage to Washington as an incredible life-changing experience.

New eyes of faith

Diane Weidenbenner of Terre Haute, director of marketing and communications for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, grew up in a Baptist family in Denver.

She remembers watching television coverage of Pope John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Denver for the World Youth Day celebration in August 1993.

“I saw his visit from a Protestant perspective,” she said. “I’ve only been a Catholic for eight or nine years.”

Years later, during a trip to Rome with her husband, Joe, they saw Pope John Paul waving from his window at the Vatican.

On April 17, she was excited to see Pope Benedict, if only from a distance, during the papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington.

“Now I was seeing the pope from Catholic eyes,” Weidenbenner said. “My perception of the pope is that he is very warm and personable. He canonized St. Mother Theodore Guérin, and I’ve read more of his writings. … That really meant a lot to me to see his personal relationship with Jesus and with God.”

Unforgettable lessons

Lumen Christi Catholic School junior Bridget McHugh, a member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, said it was “a really humbling experience” to participate in Mass with Pope Benedict and 19 other Lumen Christi students at Nationals Park in Washington.

“It’s really calming,” Bridget said. “You see the Holy Father and just forget about everything else, and focus on the Eucharist and what a cool experience it is to be there. … You could see the joy on his face—how happy he was to be there.”

Lumen Christi sophomore Joseph Perry, a member of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis, said during the Mass “it made me feel great that a lot of people were supporting the pope.”

The Mass was “a once-in-a-lifetime experience so you have to cherish it,” Joseph said. “He inspired me to hold true to our faith. Pope John Paul II did, too.”

Worth the long waits

Indiana University sophomore Justin Mascari and his father, Richard Mascari, who are members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute, were able to see Pope Benedict four times in Washington by waiting and waiting and waiting.

“To see him four times, we waited about 10 hours,” Justin said, “and the drive there was about 24 hours total.”

On April 16, they stood near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue for two hours to get a glimpse of him riding by in the popemobile. Then they waited two-and-a-half hours on the road to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to see him again.

“It was definitely worth it,” Justin said, “just to catch him for maybe 20 seconds.”

The huge Mass at Nationals Park on April 17 “was the most moving experience of seeing him,” Justin said. “It was obviously special because it was a Mass, but being there with 46,000-plus people made you feel proud about being Catholic.”

Pilgrim sisters

St. Mary parishioner Cathy Funkhouser of Richmond and St. Jude parishioner Becky Flack of Indianapolis grew closer to God and each other as sisters during their pilgrimage to the nation’s capital.

They said getting tickets from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for the papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington was an answer to prayers and a special blessing.

“It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had,” Funkhouser said. “When [the pope] came into the stadium, it took your breath away because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. You just felt a tremendous amount of faith. It was like nothing I have ever felt before. I shook during the entire Mass. … I try very hard to live a Christ-like life, and it strengthened me and grounded me even more in my faith.”

Flack said they also felt “a holy presence” in the city because of tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims excited to be there.

“When [the pope] came into the stadium, it was as if you were uplifted,” Flack said. “I immediately started crying tears of joy. It was just the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The Eucharist—the consecration—was just beautiful. It was much, much more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t think words can explain that.”

Trip of a lifetime

In her 91 years, St. Luke the Evangelist parishioner Mary Ellen Finkbeiner of Indianapolis said, the pilgrimage with her daughter, Mary Ann Roberts of Tucson, Ariz., to see Pope Benedict XVI in Washington is one of her best memories even though they didn’t get to see the pontiff.

Her son, Charles Finkbeiner, is a founding trustee of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. She and her daughter were scheduled to meet Pope Benedict there on April 17. However, the pope’s schedule was changed, and they only got to watch him on television even though they were in the same building.

She passed through the building’s security check with help from Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

“We were waiting to go into the center and I was standing next to Cardinal Egan,” she recalled. “He was so nice. I said, ‘Cardinal, you go right ahead.’ But he said, ‘No. I’m going to take your arm and we’ll go in together.’ That was kind of neat for me.”

Inside the center, she said, “we thought that hopefully the pope would come up [to our conference room]. We were praying that he would come up, but he didn’t get there.”

Pope Benedict “walks so well for 81,” she said after watching him on TV. “I’m blessed to have been able to go. Cardinal [Adam] Maida [of Detroit] came and gave us the pope’s blessing at the dinner, and everyone there received a rosary that was blessed by Pope Benedict. I’ve been using it, too. I pray the rosary every day. I have one that was blessed by Pope John Paul II so I’ll have to interchange them now.”

Pinnacle of faith journey

For Anthony Lee, attending the papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington with his wife, Jane, was the pinnacle of his faith journey.

“It was tremendous,” said Anthony, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis since 1990.

“Our pope is very genuine and warm,” he said. “You can see he is a kind, good, holy person.”

A native of Malaysia, Anthony converted to Catholicism in 1958 when his mother, a strict Buddhist, finally gave him her blessing to join the Church.

In Washington, Anthony said he was awestruck to be at a Mass celebrated by a “descendant of St. Peter” and “receive his blessing.”

When the crowd of 46,000 sang “The Lord’s Prayer” in unison, he said, “It was a tremendous thing.”

(Editor Mike Krokos contributed to this story.) †

(Click here to read the full text of the pope’s homily from the Mass at Nationals Park)

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