WASHINGTON — When our family found out that we had received four of the 25 tickets allotted to the Diocese of Charleston to attend the papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., we were ecstatic.
We have wanted to make a pilgrimage to Rome and Italy for quite a while now, but with three children it is not an easy feat. Now Pope Benedict XVI was coming to us. How could we not make the effort of a mere thousand miles to see him?
On the morning of April 17, we woke at 3 a.m. to travel from Pennsylvania, where we were visiting family, to the capitol. The Metro stations were full of police and security, who helped direct the faithful to the Mass.
When we arrived at Nationals Park Stadium around 7 a.m., the park was already half full as priests had been hearing confession since 6 a.m. The pre-Mass program included choir groups who sang as the faithful came together.
All nationalities came with smiles, some with walkers, wheelchairs or in mothers’ arms. It was a beautiful sight.
Nearby dioceses bused their people in. Some were in uniform T-shirts with “We love Pope Benedict XVI” on them.
We quickly found our seats and our fellow pilgrims from South Carolina. We updated each other on the schedule and sightings of the pope and learned that many of our own priests were there to concelebrate Mass. As we were speaking, we saw Father Edward Fitzgerald, pastor of Divine Redeemer in Hanahan, pass by on the ball field; and after Mass we saw Father Andrew Trapp, parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton.
It was a cloudless day, but a bit chilly for us South Carolinians. Time passed quickly as we waited for the arrival of our pope. Activity on the field increased until precisely 9:30 a.m., when it was announced that the pope had arrived. Everyone stood and cheered, waving the papal flags. By now, the whole stadium was filled, including additional seats on the field. Then, Pope Benedict emerged in his popemobile for a tour around the field, giving the faithful a chance to see him as close as possible.
Many, including me, shed a tear of joy upon seeing the pope. At that moment, I felt more connected to this father of my faith than my own dad. It seemed the pope was joyous to see us, too, as he leaned out his window to wave at all of us.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., made an eloquent welcome speech. The Mass began with the reverence and beauty that it is due. The faithful responded and prayed in unison, voices rising to heaven. The priests, bishops and our Holy Father consecrated the Body and Blood of our Lord.
I have read Pope Benedict’s books and expected a theologian giving a highly intellectual and over-my-head homily. How surprised I was to hear our pope speaking like a loving father, defending the truth and courageously addressing the recent sexual abuse scandal in the church.
I thanked God for our shepherd and all the priests. What a gift I have received to be in the church established by Christ and handed down to Peter’s successors.
What a blessing to be at the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. It still blows me away every time I think of our experience. I will treasure this memory always.
Submitted by Hsin Yi Armstrong of St. Anthony Church in Florence.