By Seth T. Gonzales
PHILADELPHIA — A host of performers, including actor Mark Wahlberg, comedian Jim Gaffigan and musical artists Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli, Juanes and The Fray entertained pilgrims young and old from across the world gathered on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia for the Festival of Families.
On Sept. 9, organizers made 10,000 free tickets for the Sept. 26 festival available on a first-come, first-serve basis for seats closest to the stage. For nonticket holders, sections were cordoned off along the parkway and Jumbotrons put in place to view the festivities on stage.
World Meeting of Families organizers said thousands more had filled those sections by 5 p.m. Attendees began camping out as early as Friday night in order to ensure admittance into the park.
Before arriving at the park, Pope Francis delivered a speech to thousands gathered at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The pontiff then made his way to the park in his popemobile and addressed the crowd.
Luisa Sanchez-Sorondo and her husband, Francisco Dionisio, are natives of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and knew the pope while he was still a cardinal. Both are leading the cause for the canonization of an Argentine laywoman named Maria Antonia de Paz Figueroa.
“I see him (Pope Francis) dressed in white and I cannot believe it, because I always met him in black so it’s so strange for me,” said Sanchez-Sorondo, who has two children. “(This event) gives us an opportunity to listen to different points of view from around the world.”
Flying all the way from Hawaii, Heather and Robert Kerschner brought their two children, Michael, 8, and Lily, 6, in the hopes of seeing Pope Francis. All four of them pressed up against the park’s security railing on the pope’s motorcade route.
“I think it’s really important for them to see the power of faith and to see that it was a long journey for us to get here, but just to see it all culminate in a really exciting event like this is another way for our faith to bring us together,” Heather said. “We were just telling our son yesterday that we are a part of history right now.”
Hailing from North Dakota, Paul Gardner is a second-year seminarian studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He was among those who got a ticket for seats near the stage.
“To see the pope who’s giving such a good example of how to live a humble life and not think much of himself is very exciting,” Gardner said. “More than anything I’m looking forward to seeing that example so I can live it out if, God-willing, I become a priest someday.”
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