By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published July 23, 2015
ATHENS—St. Joseph Church parishioner Lynn Renna has done her papal pilgrimage homework.
For months Renna has been researching transportation and accommodation details associated with a parish trip during Pope Francis’ visit to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September.
Pope Francis will be in the United States Sept. 22-27, giving talks and making pastoral visits to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. A papal Mass will be celebrated Sunday, Sept. 27, at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway before he returns to Rome. The group organized by the Athens parish plans to attend that outdoor Mass.
In January, Renna, a teacher and 25-year parishioner, approached parochial vicar Father Gaurov Shroff with the idea. Father Shroff gave her the go-ahead and he will be joining the pilgrims, who come from several parishes, for the trip.
A Baltimore native, Renna thought that an extended weekend trip using the Maryland city as home base would be a better alternative than a long road trip to Philadelphia. She found discounted flights from Atlanta to Baltimore, secured a charter bus, and has arranged sightseeing involving Catholic places of interest. The first bus filled up quickly, and now Renna has rented a second bus with 18 seats still available.
The St. Joseph-affiliated trip has 108 people registered, including some from St. Joseph Church in Marietta.
“They are so excited,” said Renna. “Our parish welcomes you.”
The pilgrims will fly Friday, Sept. 25, to Baltimore. Renna has secured affordable rooms, with six people to a room and breakfast included.
They will visit the Baltimore Basilica, which is the first cathedral built in the United States; Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the seminary attended by Father Shroff; the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine; and Holy Rosary Church in Baltimore for a Polish festival on Saturday.
Originally, Renna had planned for the buses to go into Philadelphia both Saturday and Sunday. But, after the Vatican released the pope’s schedule in June, Renna decided Sunday would suffice, where they will attend the outdoor Mass. The money saved will be used for a special gift for the bus riders.
“We ordered the papal rosaries,” said Renna. “Father wants us to pray the rosary while we’re driving.”
Those making the trip will also visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. They will return to Atlanta Tuesday, Sept. 29.
On a recent trip to Baltimore, Renna registered the buses with Go Ground, the official transportation management partner for the World Meeting of Families.
“No cars will be allowed into Philadelphia,” she explained. “It’s going to be locked down. They are expecting 40,000 charter buses.”
After arriving Sunday, the pilgrims will have to walk two to three miles to the Mass site near the famous “Rocky steps” on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“My seniors know it,” she said about the trek.
The travelers are a wide range of ages. Renna is taking her 9-year-old grandson, Lenny.
“He’s an altar server. He loves to usher,” she said. Father Shroff has asked Lenny to bring his cassock to serve at a Mass during the trip.
Renna, who attended a lightning-punctuated Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II in South Florida in 1987, believes the trip will create a lifetime of memories for her grandson.
“That will be something long after I’m gone,” she said.
Atlantans to do street ministry in Philly
Two members of the faith formation staff of the Atlanta Archdiocese will attend the World Meeting of Families: Amy Daniels, director of the Office of Formation and Discipleship, and Daniel West, serving OFD in marriage and family ministry.
There are at least three other local groups with trips organized to see and hear Pope Francis.
Dave Sloan, founder of Love and Serve Outreach in Atlanta, will lead Love and Serve with Francis in Philly.
Other mission team coordinators are Janice Givens, former young adult minister for the archdiocese and founder of Go Fish, and best-selling Catholic author and Theology of the Body teacher Christopher West. West, who has brought the teachings of St. John Paul II to a wide audience, recently published the ebook, “Pope Francis To Go.”
Those making the mission trip will be serving alongside members of the Bethesda Project, ministering to Philadelphia’s homeless. Legionary of Christ Father Daniel Hennessy, of Philadelphia, will be celebrating Mass for the Atlanta group and helping to coordinate planned outreach events.
More than 40 Atlanta area residents have committed to making the trip. Their activities will include evangelization, conducting walking rosaries, and distributing needed goods to the homeless.
They will attend the pope’s outdoor address to the Festival of Families on Saturday evening, Sept. 26, as well as the papal Mass on Sunday.
“At this time we do plan to make a second bus available if we get enough interest,” said Sloan.
The group will be staying at a cabin campground, said Sloan.
Madison mission, Georgia Tech will be there
Ann Mitchell of St. James Church in Madison will take members of the youth group on a pilgrimage. Three adults and 12 teens will travel to Philadelphia and stay in a block of rooms reserved by the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Mitchell is glad that the youth group had recently taken a trip to Washington, D.C. “We learned a lot from that,” she said.
After hearing about the availability of rooms, the group made the decision to take the trip in April.
“It’s a once in a lifetime trip,” said Mitchell.
The group of mostly boys will leave Madison on Friday, Sept. 25, and return the following Monday. They are renting a 15-passenger van and driving themselves.
“Our fear right now is the transit,” explained Mitchell. She had been trying to register for two-day passes with SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, but the website crashed due to demand.
The group will attend the Festival of Families and the papal Mass.
“I don’t think they realize what’s in store,” said Mitchell about the youth. “They have no idea.”
Mitchell plans to visit the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata, Pennsylvania, as members of their congregation educated students at nearby St. Joseph School in Athens for more than 30 years.
Georgia Tech’s Catholic Center also plans to make a whirlwind bus trip to Philadelphia.
There is currently a waiting list for the trip, and Georgia Tech chaplain Father Joshua Allen said 47 students have registered.
The Georgia Tech bus will depart from Atlanta the evening of Thursday, Sept. 24.
The “simple-stay” option trip requires students to bring sleeping bags and pillows for a cost of $250 for the trip. Money for meals is considered extra.
“We have chartered a bus. We’re sleeping on some community center floor in Philly,” said Father Allen.
If availability on the bus opens up, students will be offered a spot based on the order of registration for the waiting list.
Additional pilgrimage planning meetings will be held after classes resume next month.
“We are really excited about it. It’s like having a World Youth Day opportunity for a tiny fraction of the cost,” said Father Allen. “I’m looking forward to it myself … just to see the students as they encounter the Holy Father for the first time will really be special.”