My name is Aaron Kinskey and I am a senior at Loyola, with a major in History and minors in Catholic Studies, Medieval Studies, and Art History. I recently had the opportunity to travel with my girlfriend and a group of friends to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis, and had a distinct pilgrimage experience. We may not have been traveling the Camino in northern Spain or visiting the relics of saints, but we, like so many other Catholics, came to Philadelphia to see the Holy Father of the Church which unites us. I had seen Pope Francis at the Vatican while studying abroad in Rome, but saw his journey to the United States as something incredibly special that wasn’t to be missed.
The journey to Philadelphia was, even with a car, a taxing experience. We had to wake up very early, and our days in Philly were equally exhausting. However, we would not have been able to encounter Pope Francis had we not sacrificed our time and our sleep. In this respect, we explored to a small degree the Christian tenet of sacrifice. Our sleep deprivation definitely affected our mental presence to a degree, but it also reminded us of how important this journey was, and led to some slap-happy, good-natured joking and bonding.
I had the privilege of staying with a friend’s family outside of Philadelphia and receiving their warm hospitality. It is thanks to them that we had tickets to the Festival of Families, a truly singular experience. We also received the hospitality of a kind Salesian sister who went out of her way to provide us with Papal Mass tickets. The Mass was especially memorable because we were sprawled out on the lawn of Benjamin Franklin Parkway with thousands of Catholics and people of faith, while Pope Francis celebrated Mass. To me, there was something truly American about this, the Catholic version of a revival tent meeting, give or take a few jumbotrons.
The Festival of Families was something like a Catholic music festival mixed in with families’ testimonies of trial and triumph. The musical aspect of the experience was somewhat strange because of the unlikely bedfellows of commercialism and Catholicism. The Festival featured Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg as emcee, and performances by popular musical acts such as Aretha Franklin, The Fray, and Andrea Bocelli while Pope Francis sat on stage behind the performers. This boggled my mind and even made me uncomfortable. Pope Francis did not look like he was in his element either. But after the fact, I realized that this was not as odd as it seemed. For hundreds of years, especially in the Middle Ages, entertainers performed for popes and bishops. Of course, the political and social climate is incredibly different today, but then and at the Festival, entertainers were performing popular religious and faith-oriented songs for both a larger public and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even after realizing this, I still found this event to have an air of uncomfortable commercialism.
Of all the aspects of the journey I will always remember the unity I felt with the people around me. My group joined with a youth group in song while we waited for Pope Francis to arrive, rejoicing in Christian brotherhood and sisterhood. The most powerful moment for me was when an anti-Catholic, evangelical hate group was yelling obscenities at us and then a large church group approached and began to sing loudly and beautifully, drowning the words of hate out. The love of faith had won against hatred. This solidarity was a major reason for my attendance of the Papal Visit, and I will fondly remember those times.