As papal visit nears, excitement runs high in Delaware

 

Danny Waite and his wife, Michele, hold their tickets to see Pope Francis conduct Mass in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

Danny Waite and his wife, Michele, hold their tickets to see Pope Francis conduct Mass in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Delawareans are gearing up for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States, and a general sense of excitement is shared by many, Catholics and others alike.

According to a schedule released by the Vatican, the pope will arrive Tuesday and stay five days, spending time in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. That means many Delawareans will have their first chance to see the leader of the world’s largest Christian church — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, several excited individuals said. In that time, Pope Francis will deliver the first joint papal address to Congress, meet with President Barack Obama and hold several Masses.

Massive crowds are expected, but almost nothing can sway some of the many Delawareans determined to at least catch a glimpse of His Holiness.

Jaclyn Fuller was interested in making the trip as soon as the visit was announced in November. Ms. Fuller, who works in Dover at Delaware Printing Company, which prints the Delaware State News, will take the train up from Wilmington to Philadelphia with her mother on Sept. 27.

Ms. Fuller, who is Catholic, is eager for multiple reasons.

“The fact that, one, he’s in Philadelphia, so close, you have to sort of take the opportunity, and two, he’s actually going to be saying a Mass in the cathedral I was married in,” she said.

While Ms. Fuller is not sure how close she will be able to get to the pope, she’s very excited just to be around him. It’s her first opportunity to see the head of the Vatican, while her mother was able to see Pope John Paul I in the 1970s, she said.

Others share a similar level of excitement.

After winning two tickets from Church of the Holy Cross, Dover resident Danny Waite will be driving down to Washington for the day with his wife Wednesday.

“We’re both of Catholic faith and honestly I think when she got it we didn’t really think that we’d have a chance just because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said of the giveaway.

Many friends have since tried “to be extra nice to me to see if I would take them,” he said with a chuckle. Ms. Fuller also said she has a number of friends and family members who would like to go but are unable to.

The tickets were given to Holy Cross to distribute as it saw fit. The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, which oversees most the Delmarva Peninsula, provided tickets for both individuals and parishes.

The diocese received 48 tickets for the pope’s Washington canonization Mass of Junípero Serra, a friar who founded the first Spanish missions in what is now California.

Those tickets were given away in 24 pairs through a drawing, with about 120 people entering, said Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the diocese. For the pope’s trip to Philadelphia, the diocese distributed seven tickets to each of the 57 parishes.

There has been “quite a lot of buzz,” Mr. Krebs observed, especially with Delaware being situated within a few hours of all three cities Pope Francis will visit.

“Not only is this excitement for people all around the United States but especially for us who are so close to where the pope will be making appearances,” he said.

People seem drawn to Pope Francis in a way perhaps different from many prior Vatican leaders. His declarations of the need to combat economic injustice and global warming, along with his humility, have caused even many non-Catholics to develop a fondness for him. The fact he is the first Hispanic pope is also a point of pride for many.

“Any person of good will, no matter what their religious background or affiliation might be, you really can’t help but admire Pope Francis especially in this day and age,” Mr. Krebs said.

He praised the Holy Father for his modesty and compassion, noting his “warm smile” and “grandfatherly” demeanor.

Mr. Waite agreed, calling Pope Francis “more relatable to more of the problems that people face in our modern era here.”

Schedule

On Wednesday, the pope will visit with President Obama, tour the National Mall, host a prayer session at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and hold Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Mr. Waite knows that with a huge number of tourists in town just for this occasion, it will be a long day full of crowds. Nonetheless, he is undaunted and remains determined to see Pope Francis, whom he referred to as “the people’s pope.”

Thursday, Pope Francis will become the first Vatican leader to address Congress. Delaware’s senators, Democrats Tom Carper and Chris Coons, were giving away tickets online for a standing room spots outside the Capitol, where people can watch Pope Francis speak to lawmakers. Tickets could be requested for free at www.carper.senate.gov/tickets or www.coons.senate.gov/services/request/tickets/.

Every senator received 200 tickets, while representatives were given 50 tickets. The office of Rep. John Carney, D-Del., has already distributed its allotment.

Members of Congress are allowed to bring one guest. Rep. Carney is bringing his brother, and Sen. Coons is taking his wife with him.

On Saturday, the pope will hold a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia and then visit Independence Hall. The following day, he will host a Mass in honor of the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, which touts itself as the world’s largest gathering of Catholic families.

Free tickets from archdioceses and Catholic organizations were quickly snatched up, and some are being resold online for hundreds of dollars or more.

The Diocese of Wilmington began planning nearly a year ago, almost immediately after Pope Francis’ travel plans were revealed. While Delaware is in many ways near the center of the action, Mr. Krebs is grateful it’s not quite at the exact middle, due to all the security and other scheduling needed in the cities where the pope will be.

Bishop Francis Malooly of the Wilmington Diocese has called for a special hour of prayer from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in honor of the visit.

Some parishes are holding their own events or trips. About five busloads of Delawareans throughout the diocese will be heading to Philadelphia, according to Mr. Krebs.

According to AAA, about 2 million people are expected to travel to Philadelphia, New York and Washington. The organization urges residents and visitors to the cities to plan extensively ahead of time and be prepared for long days.

Just having a chance to witness the pope is a rare thing, an opportunity that has created enthusiasm and joy among many people of various faiths.

For Ms. Fuller, the best thing is simply taking part in the experience with a beloved family member.

“For me, it’s all about my mom and sharing it with her,” she said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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