By: Jeff Hoeben

The Pope smiles at the masses gathered in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.  Photo credit: Adam Howard

The Pope smiles at the masses gathered in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
Photo credit: Adam Howard

It’s been said, “the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” The World Meeting for Families was a time for Catholics around the world to gather in celebration of society’s most basic building block, the family.  It was, you might say, an opportunity of a lifetime.

My brother-in-law’s work calls him to the galley of a boat that happened to be docked in Baltimore, so on Thursday, two days before the Pope was to arrive in Philadelphia, I decided to travel to Baltimore to meet up with Kevin. We then travelled by train to Philly to take in the Festival of Families.  The day prior to my departure, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus could be heard telling the boys, “take nothing for the journey” as he sent out his twelve.  In that spirit, I tried to travel light, only a small backpack and yes, I left my second tunic at home. Along with that, I left behind my desire for a thoroughly planned out, well-scripted sort of event.  I wanted to travel light and allow the spirit to move me – and move me It did.

Many others had planned months for their trip to Philly, arranging transportation and lodging and securing tickets.  I, on the other hand, set out Saturday morning with no idea where I would lay my head that evening.  With trust and faith I set out knowing God would provide.  During the festival of Families, six different families from as many different continents spoke.  They spoke of the beauty and the challenges of family life.  Their stories were as varied as the cultures they came from.  In each story, the reality that strength comes from the Lord was evident.  The reality that as families, we must trust in the Lord, was conveyed as they recounted stories of loss, love, challenge, and hope.

After the families had spoken, Pope Francis got up and spoke in a very personable and even humorous way. As his words were amplified to the millions in attendance, the energy was palpable – a hopeful feeling of awe and inspiration swept through those of us gathered. His words were filled with light and truth.

The lines were long, and the crowds were thick but there was a beauty in that. There was beauty in the banners displayed along the streets of Philly that showed the Pope’s image and his quotes about joy. It truly was a joy-filled time. Clearly, something drew these people in. There is an unexplainable pull that causes pilgrims to travel from far and wide to join thousands of others to be in the presence of this great man. Catholics and non-Catholics alike gathered.  It was a great testament to the Universal Church to which we belong. It was a sign that the Church is alive and well.

As for our nights lodging, we simply asked a couple of priests we encountered if they had any ideas on where we might go. They made one quick call and pointed us towards St. Patrick Church, about twenty blocks away. A group of Denver seminarians welcomed us in and carved out a bit of floor space for the evening.  It was the perfect way to end the day.

I used to think that opportunities of a lifetime were rare – that they only presented themselves on special occasions. The opportunity to see first-hand, our Holy Father, doesn’t come along very often for many of us. Typically Pope Francis is 4,852 miles away, but on a weekend in September, he was but 957 miles away. I seized the opportunity to be in his presence. I learned much during my time with the Holy Father, but perhaps the most inspiring thing I learned was that opportunities of a lifetime come along every day. While the Holy Father isn’t often just a hop, skip, and a jump away, the opportunity to share the hope and the love of Christ with my family comes along every day. Let us take seriously the opportunities we have in raising Godly families.