Pilgrim snapshots

Categories: Papal visit,World Meeting of Families

Thirty-six pilgrims from around the Diocese of St. Cloud traveled to Philadelphia Sept. 22-28 for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit to the city. The following are brief reflections from some of the pilgrims:

“Pope Francis was the highlight of our week in Philadelphia. Our hope and prayer was to be able to get close to him, and although we didn’t get to personally meet him, he did pass within 50 feet of us in his popemobile on Saturday evening [Sept. 26]. To hear his passion for the importance of family and our Catholic faith was inspirational. At the Papal Mass [Sept. 27] we were in awe as we heard a crowd of 800,000 people simultaneously become silent because he asked for reverence and quietness as we were beginning Mass; it was amazing. The only sound heard was the creak of a child on a swing behind us. Although many languages were used throughout Mass, we were able to understand and follow along. That is one of the beautiful things about our faith no matter where we travel: The Mass is always the same.

“Jeff shared one experience that, for him, set the tone for the whole pilgrimage: ‘After our long travel to Philadelphia on the first day [Sept. 22], we were gathered, waiting for Mass to start. There was an elderly couple sitting in front of me; all the other chairs were pretty much filled up. Off to the side was a young couple with a toddler and a baby in a stroller. The elderly couple looked over and, seeing the young family, stood up and offered their seat to them. Seeing this really touched my heart and made me more attune to look for the many ways that God’s love was being expressed through the people I encountered.’

“The kindness, respect and love of fellow pilgrims during the week were inspiring. When talking with Philadelphia residents, they commented on how peaceful the gatherings were. God is good!”

Diane and Jeff Aschnewitz
Our Lady of Victory Parish, Fergus Falls


“I went to the pilgrimage to Philadelphia ‘to see the pope.’ But the blessings received were numerous. The World Meeting of Families four-day conference was a chance to hear church leaders such as Cardinals Sarah (Africa), Tagle (Philippines) and O’Malley (Boston). I was impressed that the conference included other faiths. Prayers were offered by a Mormon and a Jew. One of the keynote speakers was Rick Warren, a Baptist minister.

“Being a grandparent, it was gratifying to have the role of the grandparent affirmed by the speakers and by Pope Francis. He said, ‘Grandparents are the memory of the family, they are the ones who gave us the faith.’  There are countless opportunities to pass on that faith to our grandchildren. Family has a much broader meaning for me now and ‘Love is our Mission.’”

Lynda Stewart
St. Lawrence Parish, Rush Lake


czestochowa“Since this was my first extended pilgrimage, and normally I avoid crowds, I left home traveling with my faith and my lovely wife, Sharon, at my side for support. I took hundreds of pictures and was blessed to see and photograph the pope both days [Sept. 26-27]. But my favorite picture is of Our Lady of Czestochowa with a small girl standing alongside. When I was attempting to take the photo, the small girl suddenly entered the scene so I zoomed her out of the picture. When I looked again at Our Lady I realized the picture wasn’t complete without the child standing next to her, I retook the picture. The World Meeting of Families reminds us to see the whole picture, not only from our view, but to be open to see the beauty of the family the way God sees it.”

John Schulzetenberg
St. Michael Parish, Spring Hill


“Awesome moments and happenings were abundant during our Pilgrimage!  My favorite and most inspiring experience was a surprise encounter with Gianna Emanuela Molla on the streets of Philadelphia.  Gianna is the youngest daughter of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.

“Saint Gianna is a model wife, mother, and doctor.  She is best known for putting the life of her unborn child ahead of her own during pregnancy. Gianna Emanuela was born healthy, but Saint Gianna lost her life. For this reason, Saint Gianna is associated with pregnancy, infertility and the protection of unborn children.

Gianna[3]“Because I work for the Office of Marriage and Family and teach Natural Family Planning, I regularly work with couples experiencing pregnancy and infertility.  Saint Gianna has always inspired me, even before she was canonized a Saint in 2004.

“During the World Meeting of Families, I eagerly attended a presentation, “Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord: The Heartbreak of Infertility.” I was delighted that Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla was one of three presenters.  As I entered the room, I  noted it was filled beyond capacity.  I quickly found a spot on the floor, and prepared my electronic translator.  (Actually, my wonderful husband, Vince, prepared my translator!) I listened to Gianna’s voice in Italian while it was simultaneously translated into English.  Despite some difficulty hearing and understanding, Gianna’s expression of love was incredibly clear.  She spoke of how her Saint-Mother loved her husband, her children, her patients, and especially her self-sacrificing love which allowed Gianna to be born.  Gianna’s words and pictures were incredibly moving.  She assured us of her prayers, and especially for our intentions and for those with infertility or difficult pregnancies.  At the conclusion of the presentation, many people swarmed the speakers.  I told Vince of my desire to converse and take a picture with Gianna Emanuela.  He assured me it was not possible if we were to be on our bus that was leaving in less than 15 minutes.

“The next day, while exploring the streets and historic sights of Philadelphia, I looked up and saw Gianna Emanuela standing five feet in front of me!  I instantly told her companion that I did not wish to bother, but wondered if it would be possible to take a picture with Gianna.  Before I completed my sentence, Gianna hugged me tightly four times! A picture was taken, we briefly conversed, and Gianna assured me of her prayers.  She was more gracious and holy than I can describe!  I know I am incredibly blessed to have had this encounter with the child of a Saint!

“Saint Gianna is an ideal model for families in the 21st century. She is truly a modern-day Saint.”

Sheila Reineke
Saint Mary’s Cathedral