by Katie Hyde
Special to The Leaven
When I asked the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas what they were most excited to see in Poland, one response was almost universal: Pope Francis.
And when I asked pilgrims from around the world the same question, the answers were similar: Papa Francisco, Papa Francesco, Pape François, Papst Franziskus, Papiez Franciszek.
During every event where the pope made an appearance, the chants were the same:
¡Viva Papa Francisco! Long live Pope Francis!
¡Esta es la juventud del Papa! We are the pope’s youth!
And whether it was serendipitous seating arrangements or the grace of God, the archdiocesan group found itself less than 30 feet away from Pope Francis more than three times during the pilgrimage.
“I was right at the gate when the pope drove by,” said Breanna Davis, a parishioner at Most Pure Heart of Mary in Topeka. “I was trying so hard not to cry. Hearing everyone scream his name was awesome.
“A lot of the time, when you tell people about your Catholic faith, they’re like, ‘OK.’ Hearing everyone else scream Pope Francis’ name and be as excited to see him as I was was incredible.”
“It was amazing being that close to Pope Francis,” said Anne Ginzel, a parishioner of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka. “As soon as I saw the white car, this wave of joy came over me. You could just see the love and joy radiating off of him.”
For many young people of the archdiocese, Pope Francis’ messages to the crowds of millions felt much more like an intimate conversation with a beloved friend or mentor.
“He’s like a third grandpa,” said Sarah Jo Schwinn, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception – St. Joseph in Leavenworth. “He takes a different approach. He’s so humble. You just want him to sit with you and give you life advice.”
The pilgrims also felt encouraged and inspired by the pope’s challenges to live a life of service and sacrifice.
“His message was so simple and so profound,” said Ginzel. “What I love about Pope Francis is that he loves the people wherever they are and encourages us to be better.
“Sometimes, I put God in a box. Pope Francis just incinerated the box.
“He tells us that anything is possible with God.”
Davis echoed Ginzel’s love of Pope Francis’ message. She was especially touched by his encouragement to live life to its fullest, particularly after the death of her close cousin.
“I was touched when he said, ‘Don’t give up so early, don’t retire early,’” said Davis. “As young people, we have so much to live for. So much to live up to.
“I want to honor the people of my past, live joyfully in my present, to set the road for my future.”