Story by Tess Wahlmeier
(SNR) - Ninety-four pilgrims from the Diocese of Lincoln and surrounding area traveled 25 hours by bus to Philadelphia to attend the World Meeting of Families, which concluded Sept. 27 with Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
Kaylee Miller, an 18-year-old from Culbertson, said, “I was actually the first one to get the feeling and then told my mom, ‘I think I’m supposed to go, and if you guys don’t go, then I’ll find a way myself.’”
“And I said, ‘good luck with that,’” said Brenda Miller, Kaylee’s mother. “Financially, we just never do that kind of stuff. Then it was maybe two months after that when I was at holy hour and by the time holy hour was over, I looked at her (Kaylee) and said, ‘I think I’m supposed to go, too!’ and I told Jesus, ‘Good luck with that.’ I said, ‘you provide the way, provide the money, show us how,’ and he did.” Brenda’s husband, Travis, was also able to come on the pilgrimage with his wife and daughter.
Belen Peña and her young daughter, Sulymar, were a few of the many Hispanic pilgrims on the trip, giving them a laughing advantage when the Holy Father made his address outside of Independence Hall in Spanish.
“I came on the pilgrimage because I thought it would be a beautiful experience to meet the pope,” Peña said. “We were a little bit hesitant to come, but God moved us by the Holy Spirit to come and receive all the blessings that he gave us.”
Peña said some of her favorite parts of the trip were meeting people and seeing so many different churches and shrines.
The diocese split into two groups, with one group going to the World Meeting of Families conference and the other group going to various shrines and historic attractions around Philadelphia.
The World Meeting of Families Conference began with Mass each morning, followed by a keynote speaker and several breakout sessions on topics like human sexuality, bringing prayer into the family, and the joy of the Gospel.
Pilgrims saw the shrine of St. Maria Goretti, the shrine of St. John Neumann, and the shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, as well as the Liberty Bell, Christ Church, and other historic sights.
For many of Lincoln’s pilgrims, the shrines were powerful and inspiring.
“I liked the St. John Neumann shrine,” said Kay Mallack of York, “because that is the patron saint of my high school where I graduated from, Bishop Neumann in Wahoo.”
Mallack’s son Reed got to serve at Mass at the St. John Neumann shrine, where the saint’s incorrupt body lies. The pilgrims also got to see the relics of St. Maria Goretti, which normally reside in Italy but are touring the United States.
Seeing incorrupt saints was a different experience for mortician Becky Lauk of Lincoln.
“That was the coolest thing I have ever seen,” she said.
“I was so overpowered by the Holy Spirit being close to (the relics of St. Maria Goretti), I really was. It was a very uplifting experience, and she’s the saint of forgiveness, so I think it really helps a lot of people with different issues that they might have in their life.”
Brenda Miller and her daughter, Kaylee, agreed about the power of stepping into the shrines.
“Just walking into the shrines just felt like home,” said Brenda, “you just . . .”
“Don’t want to leave,” Kaylee, finished.
Beth Nemec and her 12-year-old daughter, Julia, of Seward, also went on the sightseeing portion of the pilgrimage.
“As far as the historical sights,” Beth said, “we really enjoyed seeing Ben Franklin’s grave, and we also went to Christ Church and sat in George Washington’s pew which was very large – back then they had to buy their pews – so we sat in his which was very large and Betsy Ross’s which was very small, and also Ben Franklin’s.”
Outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, a grotto was made to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Pilgrims were given white ribbons, on which they could write prayer intentions, and then tie the ribbons onto the grotto. Sunday afternoon before Mass, the Holy Father stopped at the grotto and blessed all of the prayer intentions there.
Another highlight was staying with host families from St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Warrington, Pa. Many pilgrims commented on the remarkable kindness and generosity they received from their host families.
Lylaine Abbott of Lincoln said, “when I heard that we were going to stay with a host family, I was kind of nervous about that, but our host family has been so kind.”
“We’ve really enjoyed that part of it as much as the conference,” said her husband, Bill. “Each day we came home and they ask us what we saw and what we did, and they shared so much about their family.” Bill said they wrote their prayer intention for their host family on a ribbon at the Our Lady, Undoer of Knots grotto.
Lylaine continued: “They’ve been helping us with the trains, and give us little advice and tips on how to get from point A to point B, and they really care about us; if we get lost, he is willing to come pick us up.”
Lylaine said their host family stayed up to talk with them every night, even though they had to work each morning.
On Friday evening, all the host families joined the pilgrims at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish Hall for a dinner together.
“They gave us a steak and chicken dinner, and I was expecting hot dogs and baked beans,” said Julia Nemec.
The theme of this week was, “Love is Our Mission,” and the host families of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish exemplified and magnified that theme.
“They really live their faith, and they’re on the mission of love and it really is a testament to the World Meeting of Families to have a parish like that,” said Bill Abbott.
Becky Lauk said, “it’s like exactly what Christ teaches. Christ didn’t want to take anything with him and didn’t want his disciples to take anything with them because they would be hosted by other places, and that’s exactly what happened to us.”
Belen Peña said that, even though their host family was so different from them, they understood and respected Belen and her daughter, who did the same in return.
“I’m so grateful to my host family and to God,” Belen said. “They are such a beautiful family, not just physically but personally. Inside, they were so beautiful.”
Besides the host families, Lincoln pilgrims enjoyed getting to know people from other states and countries throughout the week, as well as reuniting with other Lincoln natives.
Bill and Lylaine Abbott ran into Lincoln seminarians who currently study at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, one of whom is the seminarian that Bill Abbott prays for, through the Serra Club of Lincoln. They also found several Lincoln priests who were traveling separately from the diocese.
“There’s a lot of people who weren’t on our bus who we bumped into and got to see,” Bill said.
The Papal Mass on Sunday was the highlight of the pilgrimage. Pope Francis celebrated Mass for more than one million people. To distribute Holy Communion, priests were escorted throughout the crowds by various volunteers carrying white and yellow umbrellas.
“The umbrellas were just breathtaking,” Kay Mallack said. “To see all those people going to receive Communion was just amazing. It was just like, ‘gosh, how can people not believe?’
That’s what I felt. I mean, how could you leave here and not know this is the right thing?”
Mallack said that when she goes home, she wants to share the Holy Father’s message with the rest of her family.
“He understands that we aren’t perfect, and I think that was encouraging,” she said. “Home should not be a place of shouting, it should be a place of joy, and so often that’s where the stress and the arguing and so much of that happens and the pope is saying, ‘no, it should be peaceful.’ He knows that it’s hard.”
Bill Abbott said, “the World Meeting of Families has really reaffirmed our faith in the Catholic Church - reaffirms what you know but sometimes take for granted.”
Brenda Miller said, “I just think it’s neat how things have fallen together. Just realizing that you don’t have a schedule to follow, and how things just keep falling into place; we’ve accomplished more than I could ever imagine, seen more than I could ever imagine, just because things keep falling together.”
“For me, a pilgrimage is a series of moments of the Holy Spirit,” Bill Abbott said. “You can’t really say, ‘well, this one was the best’ because it’s just one of those things where you are open and ready for the next thing the Holy Spirit throws your way.”