Karen Willoughby of Myrtle Beach was operating on a few hours of sleep, a makeshift breakfast in her hotel room and the sheer adrenaline of finally making it to the World Meeting of Families.
Then, when she entered the convention center for the meeting’s opening ceremonies on Tuesday afternoon, excitement took over.
Willoughby dropped her granddaughter Kaiya off to take part in the meeting’s Youth Congress events and entered the main hall. She said she was overhwelmed to hear thousands of people from different countries talking in their native languages, to see them waving flags and wearing the special clothes of their nations and culture.
Beautiful music was part of the ceremony. Willoughby said she was especially impressed by a youth choir from a Philadelphia Catholic school.
“They were dressed so nicely, sang so beautifully and you could see such character in their faces,” she said. “They passed right by me and I made sure to compliment them. They really struck me.”
Willoughby felt privileged to hear a keynote speech by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles. Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and creator of the “Catholicism” film series.
“He told us that worshipping God leads to peace,” she said. “And he said we’ve lost our sense of mission — we need to rediscover who we were meant to be as Catholics.”
Bishop Barron also urged the huge crowd to remember that family is the core of the Church and of society, that any breakdown in families as a whole causes breakdowns in society.
She said Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, was also present at the opening ceremony and unveiled an unusual gift for Pope Francis — a customized bicycle.
“The mayor said he is the ‘People’s Pope’ and so down-to-earth that a bike would be the perfect thing for him,” she said.
We’ll have to wait until the weekend for the pope’s reaction.