One of the best parts of any adventure is the unplanned surprises found along the way. We had plenty of these happy surprises on our pilgrimage to Philadelphia. Here are the top seven:
1. The cheerfulness, patience, and love among the crowd. The halls and sidewalks were very crowded. There was lots of waiting in line. We were anticipating meltdowns and frustrations, but we were pleasantly surprised. It was genuinely fun to be "smooshed in" with such interesting people. We met people from Zimbabwe, Canada, Nigeria, and Mexico. We met beautiful sisters from many different orders. Sometimes we were waiting in line with bishops and cardinals. I kept thinking, "This is such a cool image of what it means to be Church!" and "Will it like this when we approach the gates of heaven?" Even in the long security lines for the Papal visit, I never heard much complaining or impatience. It was amazing!
2. The stamina and positive attitude of the boys. I still can't get over this. Ray and Adam were "SUPER TROOPERS." And they were SO excited about all we were doing. They really did not complain and we pushed them way beyond what we thought were their limits. I was so impressed with them. I completely enjoyed spending these days together as a family. We were brought closer together by the challenges we faced and experiences we shared. We felt God's presence and grace guiding us throughout the pilgrimage.
3. The high quality of both the children's and adult programming. Seriously. Out of the park! The speakers and content of their presentations were solid, packed with insight, inspiring, and challenging. In a few days I'll be posting some of my notes from the sessions I attended. I was often amazed by the "superstars" I was able to hear. It was difficult to choose which session to attend. Also, the children's programming was spot on and so well organized.
4. Seeing so many people we knew among a crowd of so many. It seemed like everywhere we went we found friends from home and that was really fun!
5. How safe and welcome we felt. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I was so worried about things like finding bathrooms in the crowded parkway, figuring out transportation, and even the possibility of terrorism. Once we were there, all of those fears were allayed. The planning and provisions were awesome. My worries were unfounded. There were hordes of security personnel everywhere and they made me feel so safe. As we walked out of the center city after the Papal Mass, many of the people in the crowd were thanking and even applauding the security personnel.
6. Generous hospitality from my cousin Emily. This was such an unexpected surprise that became a highlight of the trip. She lives in an adorable little one bedroom apartment in the center of the city. She opened up her home to us so we didn't have to fight the crowds back and forth from New Jersey over the weekend of the Papal visit. She is such a fun person to be with and we enjoyed a yummy dinner together, lots of good conversation, and a trip up the fire escape and onto the roof (which was an awesome adventure for the boys). The boys want to go back to Philadelphia soon just to visit Emily!
7. Pope Francis! Yes, we knew he was coming. I just wasn't prepared for how thrilling it would be to see and hear him in person. There is an authenticity and earnestness about him that thrills me. The media wants to spin who he is and what he says, but he is just a solid pillar of faith, truth, and love. He is so authentically present in the moment. I love that he passed on a fancy State luncheon to eat with the homeless in Washington D.C. I love that he sought to inspire rather than chastise when he spoke to Congress. I am in awe of his stamina and authenticity. And every time he asks us to pray for him I melt.
Fortunately, all of our travel plans went well. But the surprises along the way made the pilgrimage better than we could have imagined!