Yesterday my family greeted Pope Francis in the Papal Parade inside the heart of Washington D.C. I felt a little sheepish during the event because I viewed myself as an unsuccessful writer and a Mom. I didn't get the "money shot" of an amazing photo to share with my friends on social media. I didn't teach my kids to quote Jesus' words of "you are my rock" to St. Peter on the National Mall. I couldn't remember many of the symbols shown on the Vatican flag.
Our family pilgramage was made up of a collection of little moments, that strung together became something beautiful and uniquely "ours." My 8 year old used her own money to buy a Vatican flag to wave. My husband was inspired by her action to buy 2 more Vatican flags for our 3 year old and 5 year old. For the entire day in our Nation's Capital, these three girls walked around happily waving 18 inch yellow and white Vatican flags. I don't think there was a more brilliant Ad campaign by the Archdiocese of DC than the sight of these three girls waving three Vatican flags in the Metro Station of L'Enfant Plaza hours after the Papal Parade had ended.
I almost stopped my 8 year old kid from buying a souvenir Vatican flag because we had already brought a large Vatican flag from home to wave during the parade. As the Mom of many children, my default answer to any child's impromptu spending request is usually "Let's not buy it now." Somehow outside the security gate of the Papal Parade, I hesitated before saying no. My hesitation was enough time for my 8 year old daughter to offer to spend her own allowance money to buy a flage. Then my husband to suggested adding another $5 from his wallet so that her younger siblings could share in the joy.
If I had a metaphor for that impact of the Papal Parade, it's that we came to the Parade with a one large family flag to wave for the Pope and we left with 5 of my children waving individual flags inside their heart for our Pope.
My kids could see for themselves that our Catholic faith is so much bigger than the small congregation we see every Sunday at our parish church. My eldest daughter, who is 12, talked about the diversity of the crowd. We had so many sweet conversations with strangers who came from countries all over the world. The common bond we had was that we were all Americans and we all loved our Catholic Pope.
There is a sweetness and a gentleness that happens on a piligramage, and a bit of adventure. My 3 year old can ride a long Metro escalator without fear now. My 12 year old had joyful conversations with American immigrants from the Philippines and Mexico. My 8 year old saved our hungry bellies by insisting that French Bread get packed in her backpack along penguin crackers and strawberry fruit jellies. We were all so grateful to have something sustaining by our 2 hour into the wait for the Papal Parade, we declared "French Bread" to be the official snackfood of all future Papal Events.
In the middle of a giant public gathering, I'm so amazed at individual acts of kindness. At 9:30 AM, we were greeted by a well dressed volunteer who had been welcoming strangers at the gates since 4 AM. I don't know this woman's name, but she told my family exactly where to go to have our best chance of seeing the Pope. We followed her advice to walk another mile to the opposite end of the National Mall in order to have a better view.
On our walke, we took a break by the Washington Monument. We had a family picnic and a long game of tag. The Washington Monument is actually in the exact center of a giant lawn that stretches 2 miles across. What that means for those of us who live near Washington DC is that the Washington Monument is this landmark that we often see, but never visit. We have lived here for 10 years and I've never taken my kids up once to see the Monument.
IWe could see the White House from our picnic spot next to the Washington Monument. There was a loud public address system on the National Mall, so we could hear President Obama and Pope Francis talking live during their White House Event. It was such a beautiful experience to sit in that lovely expansive of space on "America's Front Lawn" and feel connect to an event that happened a few miles away with our Holy Father. In that moment, I prayed for religious liberty. I love that moving forward we have a strong family memory connected to the iconic Washington Monument. The Monument where we first heard Pope Francis in America and where we prayed to keep our religious freedom as American Catholics.
Our picnic spot on the hill was so great that we debated about watching the Papal Parade from that high, perfect vantage point. But we decided to join the crowd. We watched the parade from right across the White House. Our view of the parade route was pretty great until 10 minutes before the delayed Pope got to us. The scence was pretty iconic so all of these people with iPhone and Network Cameras appeared in front of us. Our view of the street went from 4 people deep, to about 25 people deep. I had a 1 year old, a 3 year old and a 5 year old at the Papal Parade, so I made sure to hang out towards the back of the crowd where I was less fearful of my kids getting accidentally smushed or lost.
My family only saw the Pope for a few seconds. He passed by us, mostly waving to the people on the opposite side of the road. We saw the side of our Holy Father's head and his generous wave towards others.
I only saw Pope Francis for a few seconds, but those rew seconds were enough for me. I attended an event that was humble, and free, and brief, and unticketed, and open to the general public. Yet I got to attend that event with Pope Francis with my whole family, including the one year old miracle baby who slept through the whole Parade on my husband's back.
We were one of the only family's that came to the event. Unlike the March for Life, there were not many children who came to the Papal Parade. I know that it mattered that we were there, that we got to encounter the Pope as a Family. The Pope is here for the World Meeting of Families. Marriage is a common vocation, but these days it feels rare to see it done uncommonly well in the world. For one day, on a pilgramage, my family with 6 kids ages 12 to 1, did a lot of hard work cheerfully to give some love back to our Holy Father. We got up early. We walked for miles. Pope Francis didn't see us, but he felt us!
Today, I feel so grateful to have more strength for our journey in our vocation. After 2 Papal Visits, we'veestablished a new tradition in the Benjamin family. "When the Pope is in town, we see him!," even if we only see the Holy Father for the briefest of moments.
Thank you for your visit Papa! We will joyfully pray for you!
For more reports and reflections on the Pope's visit from members of the Catholic Women's Blogger Network, please visit "A Walk In Words With Pope Francis."