By CINDY CONNELL PALMER, Commentary | Published May 1, 2008
A professor in college once told me, you are only eight people away from anything you want to accomplish in life. I took that lesson to heart recently when there was a mix-up while my pastor was out of town caring for his ill brother, and I did not receive tickets from our archdiocese to the papal Mass in New York. Our group of 11, including my husband and three children, had already purchased the plane tickets and made arrangements to go.
I swiftly contacted every Catholic relative and friend that I knew across the United States to find out if there were any extra tickets at their parishes for the Mass.
I wanted my family to experience the universal Catholic Church as I did while in Canada for World Youth Day in 2002 with Pope John Paul II. I soon found out that the tickets were not transferable.
I wrote to my Carmelite friends in Arkansas, and they told me they would offer my intention up in Mass on Tuesday. I contacted an order in New York of a longtime Franciscan family friend, and they also said they would offer up my intention at their Mass on Tuesday. They gave me the phone number for the Catholic Center in New York. I got in touch with the Archdiocese of New York and found that all tickets had been distributed. I asked if I could leave my number just in case they ended up with any extra tickets. My number was jotted down.
On Tuesday afternoon, my cell phone rang. The sister told me that she was sending by express mail 11 tickets to my home for my family and friends. Wednesday and Thursday went by … no tickets on my front porch. On Friday, I called the Catholic Center in New York, and the sister told me that they had been inundated with phone calls and planning details of the Holy Father’s arrival.
She said the tickets were there at the office and I could still have them if I could pick them up. I looked at it as another opportunity of God’s providence.
Our group landed at the airport just in time to drop our bags at the hotel and walk briskly to the parade route from Fifth Avenue to 52nd through 72nd Streets. As soon as we made it to Central Park, the popemobile passed by us and the ecstatic crowd cheered. I had been to New York before but had never experienced the city so full of life, so peaceful and so very Catholic.
After dining on pizza standing up in a packed restaurant, we went to the Archdiocese of New York’s office to pick up the tickets to the papal Mass. It was a blessing to see behind the scenes. They were still being inundated with phone calls.
As we left the office, I was handed a sealed package. The employee looked at her friend across the room with a big smile and raised eyebrows and then winked at me with a big smile and said, “Have a great time.”
I asked the friend with me if she picked up on all of that. “I think we have great seats.” We walked out into the hall and she said, “What are you waiting for? Open the package up!” My husband commented, “Hey, we are ‘in’ regardless of the seats.”
In the package, we found 11 MVP box seat tickets.
The next morning, we were off to Grand Central Station to head to Yankee Stadium by subway. It was a cold, misty and cloudy morning. As we arrived at the stadium, we soon found ourselves in a line that seemed never ending. Everything was slow moving. I felt as though I were watching a black and white movie. There were priests in their collars and nuns in their habits.
Everyone commented that they had never experienced anything like this before. Mostly, we were quiet—all of us just people watching. The time passed quickly because it was interesting to watch the crowd.
The scene then turned to vivid color, as groups of people in various uniforms passed by. First, we saw the papal choir and the entertainers for the “Concert of Hope” before the Mass. Then came the fire department for New York in their dress uniforms. Next, we saw these two little nuns in habit. One of the nuns had a cane. She walked along smiling with the other nun’s arm around her. There was so much joy and anticipation.
After we passed through security, we entered the stadium now regal, beautifully decorated with the papal colors. All advertising had been covered except two New York Yankees banners.
Because of the crowd, we decided to walk through the inside of the stadium to get to our seats. It was so wonderful to see the various religious orders represented. People old and young, of all the nations, were there.
We found our seats, and they were right behind home plate. In front of us were the altar and “Peter’s chair” just behind the pitcher’s mound. From our last-minute, impossible-to-get seats, we had a great panoramic view of the stadium.
The people in the bleachers were having a great time. They began to do the wave, which continued round and round the top level.
We went through our bags of items given to us as we entered the stadium. Inside, besides rain ponchos for the cold, New York day, were a Magnificat book for the month of May, a Catholic Digest with the article about the pope’s visit, the Gospel of Luke, prayer cards, a vocation card and a yellow scarf.
The crowd began to sing along as the singer Dana sang “We Are One Body.” Harry Connick Jr. came out to entertain the crowd. When asked if he was a devout and practicing Catholic, he said that it doesn’t get any more devout than singing for the pope. The crowd turned solemn as everyone stood and took off their hats and sang the National Anthem.
Looking around, I saw young monks with long beards down our row with the Missionaries of Charity behind them and Hispanic sisters right next to us. It was an amazing feeling, like heaven on earth. The crowd began to cheer “Viva Papa” and wave their scarves as the popemobile entered the outfield. Pope Benedict XVI circled in front of us and waved to the crowd.
After the pope vested, the Mass began. The Holy Father’s voice reminded me of Pope John Paul II’s voice. My children commented to me that they liked his voice. The orchestra and choirs sang beautifully.
What spoke to me in the pope’s homily is that our example of being Catholic needs to shine in every aspect of our lives. His word “civic” really stood out in my mind. I realized that I try to live the Gospel in my life by my family example. I do something daily to nourish my faith by going to daily Mass or joining friends to say a rosary. We volunteer at church and school and do service projects as a family.
But in hearing his words I realized that I need to do something bigger for my community.
My experience that day also was that our light must first shine in our own households in order for it to shine for others to see.
I did not realize the magnitude of the numbers in attendance until the offertory procession. The bread was brought forward by the priests, who entered from two sides. It was a holy and breathtaking sight. The priests were orchestrated in various positions for holy Communion. We went back to our seats and thanked God for this experience and offered up our personal intentions.
The day was a miracle for us. It was an example of how if you love and trust in God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength, he will surprise you and provide for you in a greater way than you can imagine.
Cindy Connell Palmer works as a freelance photographer for The Georgia Bulletin.