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Local Catholics go to Philadelphia to see Pope

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Posted at 7:51 AM, Sep 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-12 07:51:31-04

CINCINNATI -- When Pope Francis visits Philadelphia later this month for the World Meeting of Families, several hundred local Roman Catholics will be on hand to celebrate Mass with him.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has chartered five buses to make the trip, said Colleen Gerke, director of the Family and Respect Life office. Four of the buses, which are expected to be filled to capacity, will leave Saturday, Sept. 26, drive through the night to arrive in time for the Mass on Sunday with the pope, and then drive back that night. Another bus, which has about 30 passengers, will leave Cincinnati on Sept. 21 and stay for the entire, week long conference.

About 40 people from the Diocese of Covington are planning to attend the conference, but they have made private travel arrangements and the diocese hasn’t chartered any buses, diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said.

The pope is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, and spend the next two days in Washington, making an address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. He spends Sept. 25 in New York, where he is to address the United Nations General Assembly, and then will fly to Philadelphia on Sept. 26, where he celebrates Mass at the World Meeting of Families the afternoon of Sept. 27 and leaves for Rome that night.

The World Meeting of Families (WMF) is a tri-annual Catholic event of prayer, teaching and celebration that the late Pope John Paul II created to strengthen bonds between families and witness to the importance of marriage. It consists of a Theological Adult Congress and concurrent Youth Congress, followed by a Festival of Families and a Papal Mass. This year, it’s being held in the United States for the first time.

For many locals, the conference in Philadelphia is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to both see Pope Francis and worship with other Roman Catholics at the WMF.

A Chance To Grow In Faith

“We have our (parish) church, we have our diocese, but it is such an honor to be with the bigger church,” said Union, Ky. resident Karen Riegler, the former director of the Pro-Life Office of the Diocese of Covington. “I am a little nervous about the crowds, but I’m putting it in God’s hands... Whenever you have a pilgrimage, you have the connotation that there might be a little suffering.”

As someone who’s very concerned about family issues, she would probably have planned to make the trip even if the pope weren’t coming. “I’m really excited to learn and to hear and really grow my faith through this conference (the WMF),” she said.

The same is true of Symmes Township resident Leslie Khulman, the executive director of Ruah Woods in Cleves, a non-profit education and counseling center dedicated to teaching others about Theology of the Body, John Paul II’s teaching on family and sexuality. Many of the speakers at the WMF will be of great interest to her and her colleagues, she said.

“We will hear a lot of amazing speakers there talking about the church teaching on families,” she said. “To be there and participate in the Mass will be a real privilege and honor, and to have this week of prayer and learning about the family finished off and crowned by the Papal Mass is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The talks, learning sessions and discussions at the WMF will prove invaluable for attendees, said Norwood resident Phil Miller, who teaches religion and does youth ministry at St. Vivian parish in Finneytown. He plans to spend the entire week in Philadelphia.

“I don’t want to make the pope secondary, but understanding what the family is and its role at the center of society is the most important aspect of this event,” Miller said. “We can all trace our origins back to a family.”

Seeing a pope live will be a first for him. That’s also true of Cheviot resident Mainerd Sorensen. And since Sorensen is 58, this might be his only chance.

An Inspiration to The Faithful

“He is, after all, the Vicar of Christ, the head of the church,” said Sorensen, whose wife, Christine, plans to accompany him. “I just believe God is going to bless our trip there . . .  He put it in my heart to go, and I feel like that’s what I should do.”

Others, like Covington resident Jerry Fanzen, an ordained deacon, traveled to Denver, Colo., in 1993 when John Paul II visited the United States for World Youth Day, a recurring event for young people that John Paul II initiated in 1985. On his 1993 visit, the pope celebrated Mass with about 300,000 people, including Franzen.

He likes the current pope because he seems to have a good handle on the relationship between God and his people, he said, and how he can help God’s people cooperate in that relationship. He also appreciated the pope declaring a Holy Year of Mercy, starting Dec. 8, when women can receive absolution for the “sin” of abortion.

“That’s something people can really grab onto, that they can hang their hat on, that we have a very merciful god, one whose mercy is infinite,” Franzen said. “There’s not enough emphasis on that quality of God in our lives, currently.”

The pope has inspired many Catholics to reconsider their faith, Gerke said. “He does what saints do. He inspires you to be a better follower of Jesus.”