A Hope-Filled Glimpse of Pope Francis

An amazing, unforgettable day of catching a glimpse of Pope Francis with 80,000 people.

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Posted in , Sep 30, 2015

Pope Francis in Central Park

"I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”; the song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory has been playing in my head for over a week. Ever since a quick conversation after a business meeting where my manager, Ansley, mentioned that she was going to see the Pope in Central Park.

“Wait… do you want to go with me?” she asked.

I hadn’t even thought to try to get tickets to see the Pope procession. Her invitation was impossible to turn down.

Later she explained it was the excitement on my face that led her to ask me. What I’ve always thought was a weakness—that my every thought shows on my face—finally played out in my favor. “You don’t wear your heart on your sleeve,” a co-worker once told me, “You wear it on your face.”

A week later, I searched the internet reading and re-reading the rules, road closures, studying the subway map. I scheduled an early train unsure if it was early enough.

My sons and I watched the procession in D.C. on TV. “How long will you have to wait before he comes?” my youngest asked. I accessed the crowd imagining myself there. “Oh about eight hours,” I answered. He shrugged his shoulders. “You must really want to see him.”

Friday morning, the day of procession, sitting in an empty train that is always packed my what-if worries grew. The early morning news said they might close subway stations and block off streets to pedestrians. Looking out at the gray sky I felt as if I was entering the eye of the storm.

Once in the city, Ansley met me on the subway platform. Excitedly we climbed the stairs to begin our adventure. I wasn’t prepared for the scene above ground. People—more people than I've ever seen—flooded Columbus Circle. Some had tickets to get in to the park. Others lined up behind barricades on the street.

Ansley and I scanned for open areas and followed signs and instructions. We got in a long, long line where we would stand for hours. The early train, it seemed, may not have been early enough. 

A tall man beside us with miniature papal flags positioned to the temples of his glasses shouted, "Free hugs!"  Two women admired one another's new Pope T-shirts and tried to figure out how they'd change into them.

We inched ahead at a three-block-per-hour pace. The line behind us extended beyond sight. I worried about the older woman in front of us with a cane. Hours passed in waves. I’ve never been so close to so many people.

In a burst, we passed through security. For a brief moment we were in open space. I waved my arms and took in a deep-belly breath. Having room to roam confused us. Unsure where to go, we quickened our pace and caught up to a string of people and followed them through a gate.

Our freedom was short-lived as we crowded into a corralled section. Finding the right spot was a tough decision. Close in proximity or up on a hill? We opted to be close to the path rather than on higher ground.

We sat on the grass and snacked on crackers. We spent time talking. I shared every story that came to mind. I almost lost my voice.  

Latecomers began to wiggle ahead. Standing became the only option to keep our place. By 3 p.m. we were shoulder to shoulder, inching closer and closer until there was no space to spare. The water bottle in the backpocket of the woman in front of me poked my hip while the spine of the book of the woman behind me scraped my back.

Sirens blared and a woman collapsed and was hoisted over the barricade by police and emergency responders. Time progressed on a big clock atop of a building across the street. I worried my legs might give out. How long can a person stand?

Ansley assessed our view. "Are we close enough?” she asked.

I nodded. We were about ten feet back. If we shifted, if we could find a small gap between arms, raised cellphones and shoulders, hopefully we'd catch a glimpse. All I want is a glimpse, I prayed to myself. I’ll be happy with a glimpse.

Someone behind us spotted a rainbow. We looked up in awe. Minutes later another one appeared. Blue sky, sunny day, rainbows without rain. The second one, curved like a smile in the sky. I took them as a sign. A miracle, two miracles right above our heads.

A little after 5 p.m. a man reported that his mom at home in front of the TV confirmed the Pope had entered the park. Cheers came from a distance. Cell phones raised. Excitement grew. Security. Flashing lights. Cell phones raised higher. Cheers exploded.  Nervously, I scanned my tiny vantage point. Had I missed him? Somehow had I missed him?

And then I saw him. I saw him!  “I saw him!” I exclaimed. “Me too!” Ansley said. Our eyes widened. The crowd quieted. I shifted my stance and had a clear view of him looking our way.

My eyes filled with tears. The woman beside me met my gaze with the same expression. We locked eyes.

Hope. Hope was everywhere. Massive, beautiful, hope. A crowd of hope. Around me, within me.

A day I’ll never forget. A day of hours and hours of anticipation, of belief and faith, unity among tens of thousands, patience and endurance, rainbows without rain, standing and waiting all for a glimpse, a glimpse that will last a lifetime.

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