Lynn Parishioners Amid Thousands Who Traveled To Pope Francis' Mass In Philadelphia

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(Michael Perez/AP)
(Michael Perez/AP)

Parishioners from St. Joseph Parish in Lynn are among hundreds of thousands who gathered in Philadelphia this weekend to see Pope Francis.

The pontiff celebrated Sunday Mass at the World Meeting of Families, an international event that drew Catholics from around the globe.

An 'Emotional' Pilgrimage To See The Pope's 'Message Of Hope'

No one on the pilgrimage from Lynn — except for the church's priest — had ever seen a pope in person. And seeing Pope Francis on his first trip to the U.S. was an opportunity the 166 parishioners said they could not pass up.

“Going on a pilgrimage to see the pope is something so emotional," said José Manuel Encarnación, a member of the Lynn church. "We’re gonna see the person who represents the church, who represents Christ here, so it’s very emotional, so we’re very excited.”

Encarnación has attended St. Joseph Parish for the last 30 years, since he came to the city from the Dominican Republic.

“This pope specifically, he comes with a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of love that is so touching that even people who are not Catholic, they are so inspired by that, and there are a lot of people coming back to the church because of this great pope that we have," he said. "He’s bringing the message that Jesus brought when Jesus was here.”

Pope Francis blesses the altar during Sunday's Mass. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)
Pope Francis blesses the altar during Sunday's Mass. (Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

Latinos Feel Connected To Pope Francis, A 'Son Of Immigrants'

St. Joseph Parish is 97 percent Hispanic, and a pontiff from Latin America adds extra spice to the already exhilarating experience of seeing a pope.

The four buses were led by the St. Joseph Parish administrator, Father Israel Rodriguez.

Father Rodriguez says Pope Francis’ immigrant roots strike a chord with his parishioners.

“Pope Francis is a fantastic figure, because as you know he is a son of immigrants, his parents were Italian, so he knows what it is to be an immigrant, and certainly, the Latino culture is very social, it’s very open, so he truly understands the problems of the Latino community, of the immigrant community," he said.

The buses left Lynn just past 5 a.m., with the sun rising as the caravan cut south. Father Rodriguez strummed a guitar, inviting the pilgrims to read Bible passages as the yellow school buses chugged along.

Jose Manuel Santiago said he's inspired by Pope Francis's positions on key issues, and he says he wouldn't have come to see the pope if it were the previous pontiff.

“He’s speaking of social justice, he’s criticizing neoliberalism and the abuse of the mother earth, the planet. These are things no other pope has done," Santiago said. "And it brings me closer to God and to the religion.”

Latin Americans are responsible for the bulk of growth in Catholic churches in the United States. A recent Boston College study reports that Hispanics have accounted for 71 percent of new U.S. Catholics since 1960.

For parishioner Elizabeth Martinez, dealing with poverty is an experience that can bring Latinos closer to God.

“Today we’re making history, we're here, God chose us to come, and it doesn’t matter the obstacles we have to overcome," she said. "It doesn’t matter how many hours we have to stand waiting for the pope. If we suffer hunger, if we suffer cold, the important thing is to see him today. No one knows what will happen tomorrow.”

After two stops, the caravan arrived in the south of Philadelphia amid a sea of buses. St. Joseph Parish combined with dozens more congregations, with thousands of people winding their way to the city center.

In the end, the parishioners of St. Joseph didn’t get to see the pope in person — instead, they took in the Mass on one of several Jumbotrons set up around the center of Philadelphia.

But Xiomara Niver broke off from the group, because she wanted to see the pope with her own eyes. She pressed through a crowd of thousands to move toward the papal procession, and she said she caught a glimpse.

“I’m very, very grateful to be able to be here you know, breathing over here, so many people I’ve never been around. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people. And we’re all here for the same purpose,” Niver said.

The purpose may be the same — to see Pope Francis — but the reasons behind the devotion of so many Catholics are as diverse as the hundreds of thousands who traveled to Philadelphia this weekend.

The Lynn parishioners made it back to their city at around 3 a.m. on Monday. After hours of traveling, some headed to bed, others to school, and some straight to work for the start of a new week.

This segment aired on September 28, 2015.


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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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