Friday, October 2, 2015

Pilgrimage with the Pope: Lessons in Divine Providence

By Kara Davis

All of the discerners, pre-postlant, postulants, and some 
of the Sisters who came to Philly for the Papal pilgrimage.
When the news of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States first broke out, I felt a deep sense of excitement and hope.  The holy man I had been praying with ever since he first greeted the world as Pope and asked for our prayers, was coming to the United States, was coming to visit me (and millions of other people too).  At that moment, I had a great desire to share in his visit, but had no idea that my desire would actually become a reality until the Daughters of Charity announced that they were having a discerner/pre-postulant/postulant discernment weekend in Philadelphia the SAME time that Pope Francis was scheduled to visit.  Days before he arrived to the United States, Pope Francis created a short video from the Vatican and ended his message by saying, “I will be there, because YOU will be there.”  I felt as though he was speaking to me and me alone.  Yes, I would indeed be there, filled with anticipation for how this encounter might impact my life.

Three postulants, one pre-postulant, nine discerners, four vocation directors, and one companion Sister, gathered from every corner of the country as pilgrims ready to greet the Pope in Philadelphia.  Our trip to Philadelphia was indeed a pilgrimage.  We gathered with open hearts and flexible plans, and by flexible, I mean we had no tickets for any of the Papal events and were expecting to sleep outside in order to claim a patch of grass for the Papal Mass.  Fortunately for us, God had greater plans (as always).

During the World Meeting of Families convention the week prior, the Sisters asked around and were able to acquire enough tickets for all of us to attend the Festival of Families that Saturday night.  This was perhaps the first strike of Divine Providence for our small group of eager pilgrims.  We were so thrilled and couldn’t imagine the other ways God would grace our pilgrimage.

On our way to the Festival of Families with 
our signs and prayers.
After beginning the weekend with prayer, visiting our Sisters in Philly, learning about a ministry that serves human trafficking victims, and celebrating Mass at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, it was finally time to head downtown for the Festival of Families (with our newly acquired tickets).  With sleeping bags and trash bags packed and ready, we discovered that the police were not allowing pilgrims to camp outside overnight.  The Sisters quickly put their heads together and pulled resources.  After several phone calls, and even more prayers, three hotel rooms were secured downtown, just blocks from the Papal festivities.  They were perhaps the ONLY vacant rooms in the city, and through Divine Providence, fourteen of us would be camping out in them.

During the World Meeting of Families convention, the Sisters were also able to secure nine tickets for the Papal Mass on Sunday, and we drew numbers to see who would be able to pass behind the gate for the Mass, and who would celebrate from the non-ticketed section.  Although we were thrilled to have these tickets, the idea of splitting up didn’t settle well with this group of pilgrims (#community), so signs were created for each of us to wear on our shirts and backpacks.  Some read, “Will trade prayers for 5 Papal Mass tickets.  Love, Daughters of Charity.”  We set out for the Festival of Families with our signs, filled with hope that generous hearts would provide the additional tickets we needed.

Wearing our signs at the Festival of
The Festival of Families was a beautiful celebration, with folks from around the world gathered on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, singing, dancing, praying, listening to the powerful testimonies of families, and reflecting with Pope Francis’ response to them all.  Also during this time, our signs attracted attention and many of the people around us were spreading the word about our quest for Papal Mass tickets.  Complete strangers were taking pictures of our signs and posting them on Facebook.  America Magazine found us and posted a video interview on social media.  Before long, we had acquired the five tickets needed, and several extra.  At first, it was uncomfortable asking strangers for something, but then when I experienced the kind, loving responses from others, I felt a sense of comfort and support.  Perhaps I felt just a small dose of what our friends in poverty feel everyday when they hold up their own signs in the streets.  Are they too greeted with such a kind, loving response?

Group shot with my youngest brother, a seminarian with the
Archdiocese of Denver, CO.
With all of our Papal Mass tickets in hand, and extras for the other Daughters in the city, we exited the Festival of Families and headed to our hotel.  Shortly after leaving the gates, I spotted a young group of men in clerics, one was a spitting image of my youngest brother who I knew would be in Philadelphia for the weekend.  He is a seminarian with the Archdiocese of Denver, CO.  I shouted his name across the street and the other pilgrims in our group shouted his name as well.  Before I knew it, I was being embraced by my baby brother.  Divine Providence strikes again!  God is so good!  It was truly the World Meeting of Families!  Before long, my brother’s Rector at the seminary and my vocation director were talking about our tickets, and the Rector mentioned that if we went to the Convention Center in the morning, we could exchange our regular Papal Mass tickets for seated, VIP tickets on the stage.  It seemed like this news was too good to be true, and after all of our efforts to just acquire tickets alone, I was like, “Can’t we just be satisfied with what we have?”  Perhaps we could just set out with our tickets in the morning and see what God has planned for us.

Gathering outside a security check point at 5:00am.
After camping out in our hotel rooms, we woke up the world early in the morning, and were among the first to stand in line at the security checkpoint for the ticketed section for the Papal Mass.  We sipped our coffee and prayed the rosary, and before long, we were staking claim on a patch of grass with a clear view of the altar for mass and prime space in the front for the Papal parade before Mass.  Yes!  It could not possibly get any better than this!  All we had to do was camp out until mass.  However, again, God had other plans.

Tying my prayer handkerchief to a tree in the
Prayer Grotto outside the Cathedral.  During
the Papal parade before mass, Pope Francis 
stopped at the grotto and prayed for all the
In an effort to walk around and stretch our legs, a delegation from our group decided to walk to the Convention Center, just to see what would happen.  Could we actually just trade in our tickets to get on stage?  We were going to find out.  During our walk, we stopped at the Cathedral and placed some prayer intentions in the prayer grotto positioned outside the church.  I had carried a blue handkerchief with me from New Orleans, adorned with prayer intentions and messages for the Pope from residents, workers, and family members from the nursing home where I work.  I left the handkerchief tied to a tree in the grotto and gave all of our prayers to God, and we continued our walk to the Convention Center.

We approached the Convention Center and followed our confident vocation director as she approached the man sitting at the table to inquire about the tickets.  He looked at her, and looked at us.  Finally he said that he needed to check on something and asked us to wait.  While the others ventured to the bathroom, I sat down and said a prayer.  That Sunday was the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the founders of the Daughters of Charity, so I decided to say a prayer with Vincent.  It went something like this:  “Ok, Vincent.  I know that you ministered to the rich, VIPs but also ministered to the poor, common people on the margins.  Who do you want us to celebrate mass with on your feast day?”

Displaying our miracle VIP Papal Mass 
tickets.  Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!
Moments later, we were all back at the table and the man was handing us the last tickets he had, the perfect amount for all of us to celebrate mass in the seated, VIP section on stage.  As I staggered out of the Convention Center in awe of just happened, I think I enthusiastically yelled, “Is this real life?!?!”  As we ventured back to our camp, we skipped around and sang the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory song, “I’ve got a golden ticket!”  Divine Providence strikes again!

The best part of receiving the VIP tickets was being able to pass on our regular tickets and prime seating on the grass to folks on the other side of the fence who did not have any tickets.  We passed on the generosity that was shared with us, which was something St. Vincent totally would have done in this situation.

Before I knew it, we were walking in front of the altar, the Eucharistic table where Pope Francis would be standing in just a few short hours.  I could never have imagined that I would ever be that physically close to the model of humility I have felt so spiritually close to for years.  Later, as we stood at the fence and Pope Francis rode by waving, I yelled in my best Spanish, “Oro por usted!  Ora por me!” (I pray for you!  Pray for me!)  I’m pretty sure he heard me (or at least that’s what I tell myself.)

One of my fellow pilgrims snapped this photo of the Pope,
while I was yelling my best Spanish.
Soon the cheering, energetic crowd became still and silent, and it was time to celebrate Mass.  As I watched the procession walk across the stage, I couldn’t find Pope Francis.  I kept waiting for the Pope to walk in, but never saw him.  Then, I heard his precious, English-speaking voice say, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and I saw a Bishop making the Sign of the Cross.  It was only then that I realized that this Bishop was the Pope! 

Later, as the Liturgy of the Eucharist began and this Bishop prayed the Eucharistic prayer, I found a Priest behind the altar.  I found a humble Priest celebrating the Supper of the Lamb, and I was at the table with him, accompanied by a couple million of our closest friends.  As he lifted the Host and proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world…” tears streamed down my face, and I felt such a sense of intimacy with Christ as everyone gathered miles down Benjamin Franklin Parkway responded in one voice, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  My heart was so full, it was bursting!  Divine Providence strikes yet again!

The only picture I took during mass was during the homily.
This is with zoom from our seats.

So as I have attempted to journey down from this mountain top experience, I have reflected on this powerful encounter with our Lord, through a pilgrimage with a Priest named Francis.  I have learned that if you journey with an open heart and trust in Divine Providence, life as you know it will transcend beyond your expectations.  I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for this experience, and how I feel so unworthy to have received such a precious gift.  However, I hope that by sharing this experience, may we all remember to trust in Divine Providence.  Who knows.  You might end up on stage during a Papal Mass.

So long, Papa Francisco!  Come back soon!


  1. Wonderful. I felt I was there with you. God is so good to you and you always pass it on to us.

  2. God was surely with us every step of the way.


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