By Sharon Semanie
For the Daily Call
PIQUA — Bells may have pealed upon the arrival of Pope Francis at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia last weekend; however, it was a metal cowbell Mary Jane Karn of Piqua brought from home that resonated loudly as the popular 78-year-old pontiff passed by en route to Saturday’s Mass.
Karn, mother of seven and grandmother of 22 children, was among a contingent of Piqua parishioners from St. Mary and St. Boniface Church — along with St. Patrick Church in Troy — who traveled to the World Meeting of Families in hopes of catching a glimpse of the popular Pope as he wrapped up his six-day U.S. visit.
The cowbell, explains Karn, has appeared at numerous sporting events over the years including Piqua’s Dancing With the Stars competition. She did not expect the bell, however, to pass muster with the beefed-up security detail in Philadelphia who didn’t even allow “apples, oranges, pears or water bottles” to remain in her orange backpack as throngs of visitors entered secured areas.
A devout parishioner at St. Mary Church, Karn suggested no one complained about the added security which included the FBI, Secret Service, helicopters flying overhead, canine dogs or sharpshooters seen on rooftops because “we knew it was for the protection of the Pope.”
While Karn, relatives and friends viewed one of 30 Jumbotrons placed throughout the papal route and had the privilege of seeing Pope Francis pass by in his Popemobile, she also picked up several Pope souvenirs including shirts and medals.
“It (visit) exceeded my expectations,” noted an exuberant Karn. “It’s everything I dreamed it would be.
“Never in a million years did I think we’d get to receive Holy Communion (at Sunday‘s Mass),” she added, describing a multitude of priests walking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway with white umbrellas distributing communion to the faithful many whom had waited five hours or more behind barricades. “I couldn’t stop crying. It was so neat to see people of all nationalities.”
Sister Joan Clare Stewart, S.C., was among thousands of women religious who traveled to the City of Brotherly Love last weekend. “I was within 10 feet from the Holy Father as he passed by in the motorcade,” she began. “At the time I was on the street with only one line of people in front of me. I could see (him) so clearly. He was turning and waving. We were fortunate enough that he faced us. I probably looked like a nut jumping up and down. It was just wonderful.
“It was a joyful yet peaceful crowd. Even with the Jumbotrons everyone was responding to the Mass, standing, kneeling, sitting and singing. It was just unbelievable.”
Although she was unable to enter the Basilica for Saturday morning’s Mass, Sister Joan Clare indicated she stood on a side street looking toward the aged basilica. “We saw the Pope after Mass. He was in the window and he waved to us.”
On Sunday, after attending a 9:30 a.m. Mass at the same landmark, the Piqua nun and others staked their ground along the motorcade route waiting five hours for Pope Francis to pass by en route to the late afternoon Mass.
The Pope, she observed “looked peaceful and joyful and it appeared he was looking right at you, although I’m sure everyone felt the same way.”
While he appeared “very, very serious at Mass,” she noted, “he was in his element when in the Popemobile and interacting with the children. This is where he wanted to be.”
Although a non-Catholic, Jim Oda of Piqua, accompanied his wife, Cathy and others on the Philly pilgrimage. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience … spiritually uplifting and just something which, even for me, is hard to put into words,” he said. “At the end of Mass, Pope Francis said ‘pray for me.’ Everyone around us standing along the route dotted with Jumbotrons replied, “We will, we will, we will.”
Cathy, a Catholic, and Jim, a member of St. John Lutheran Church, were within 8-10 feet of the Pope’s motorcade.
“It was like ’wow,’ an unbelievable feeling. Here is a man on earth who is the conscience of the world. His expression, the way he held himself was a very special, holy time. It surprised me since I’m not Catholic and lots (of people were) like me,” Jim said. “It (the experience) just hits you and your whole body just responds. I can’t imagine now not having gone. Everyone was experiencing the same thing.”
Like others interviewed, the Odas were overwhelmed by the Holy Communion distribution on Sunday. They (priests) came as close as they could handing out hosts. Hundreds of people were crammed near the street barricades. “In front of us was a group from Poland and another from Ecuador. One of the women from Ecuador — about 4 feet, 10 inches tall — couldn’t move forward enough to receive a host; however, a very tall Polish man reached out and got one for her. People of various nationalities were coming together helping people hold up babies.”
The Piqua couple basically “wandered around” on Saturday, although Jim indicated they couldn’t get close enough to Independence Hall, the birthplace of the signing of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, where Pope Francis was speaking.” None of the museums were open,” he said. “I couldn’t even get into the library.”
Maryann Siefring of Piqua drove overnight with two cousins for the festivities. “The disappointing part,” recalled the weary traveler, “was he had to have tickets for everything and couldn’t even get into secured areas.”
The relatives, however, stood along the parade route where the Pope passed by and were able to shoot video as a remembrance.
“Everyone was screaming, cheering and excited,” observed the Piqua teacher. “Everyone was taking photos. I will say, for the most part, the crowd was pumped up, yet kind to each other. A highlight was Sunday when Pope Francis was saying Mass. We made ourselves comfortable near the Capitol and joined others who were participating, singing and praying. Being outside worshiping in a public place was a highlight for me.”
St. Mary parishioners Daren and Angie Cecil were also among those who traveled to Philadelphia. “I almost can’t put into the words all the emotions that I felt over the weekend and still feel today,” said Angie. “I am on a ‘Pope high’ for sure.”
“I am so glad that I was able to go and I feel very fortunate to experience everything at the festival especially since so many people never even made it through security to get into the festival. I honestly never really believed that I world actually see the Pope on my journey so you can imagine how ecstatic I was when he actually passed by right in front of me. I was also humbled to be sharing in a Mass where the Holy Father was the celebrant.”
“It was also so incredible to be among so many people who shared my faith and to feel so much love,” added Cecil, whose son, Zack, is studying for the priesthood. “It was truly one of the most profound experiences of my life that I will cherish forever.”
Pope Francis arrives last weekend in Philadelphia, where several parishioners from St. Mary and St. Boniface Church in Piqua, along with St. Patrick Church in Troy, traveled to the World Meeting of Families in hopes of catching a glimpse of the popular pontiff he wrapped up his six-day U.S. visit.