By Kelly Wahlquist

pope francis_mateo

Pope Francis blessed four-week-old Matteo. Photo courtesy of Kelly Wahlquist.

This past weekend, I was blessed to go to our family reunion. You know, that fun event where you get to reunite with cousins you haven’t seen in ages and decipher with distant, distant, relatives how you are connected. And did I ever have a lot of deciphering to do!

Last Saturday and Sunday, I was with 186,000 of my brothers and sisters in Christ in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection to welcome our Holy Father—a journey, no doubt under the protection of our Heavenly Mother. I have to tell you, it truly was one, big, happy family!

I’ll admit, my goal in going to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families was two-fold: to spend time with some good friends who were joining me, and most importantly, to see the Holy Father in person. Not only were my expectations met, they were super-sized in ways I never fathomed!

The city was buzzing with excitement, leading up to the arrival of the Holy Father. I’m not kidding when I say everything was super-sized. I have never seen so many people; I have never seen so many law enforcement officers; I have never seen so many volunteers; and I have never seen so many porta potties! Now, one would think that this gathering of so many people from so many walks of life would be the recipe for chaos. But not at all! This was truly a reunion filled with the joy of anticipation and the happiness of belonging. This was the body of Christ!

Sure the hotels were packed; the walk to various places was blocks, sometimes miles; we were packed in like sardines in long security lines; and we spent six to seven hours in one crowded place just hoping to get a glimpse of the Holy Father. But what surprised me in all of this was that I loved every minute of it, because everyone was so kind. I mean über-kind! Rarely did someone walk by one of the thousands of police officers, state troupers, TSA agents, boarder patrol, reserve officers, etc. without saying, “Thank you so much for all you do.” In tight lines where people could be frustrated waiting four hours to go through security, fights didn’t break out. Rather, conversations did. And ironically (though not to God), as we found ourselves physically closer to people then we deemed comfortable, we learned how spiritually connected we are, and we rejoiced in it. New lifelong friendships were made (shout out to Fr. Ubald, and Patty & Greg), and all experienced what Pope Francis said, “Goodness always tends to spread” (Evangelii Guadium, 9). This past weekend, people truly reached out to others and saw the good.

Thousands line the streets of Philadelphia for Mass with Pope Francis. Photo courtesy of Kelly Wahlquist.

Thousands line the streets of Philadelphia for Mass with Pope Francis.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Wahlquist.

So, while I went to Philadelphia with the hopes of getting a glimpse of the Holy Father, God surprised me and gave me a glimpse of something better—He showed me that my family, though separated by oceans and borders, is truly united in His body.

In the end, I did get to see the Holy Father; he was 10 feet away from our group and stopped to kiss little four-week-old baby Matteo Augustine, who was next to me. And though I was over-joyed to be so close to one who exudes holiness, what will stay with me forever is all the stories of those around me who waited patiently, and the joy of knowing how we are all connected. All in all, it was the best family reunion this side of Heaven!