By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
PHILADELPHIA — As Pope Francis made his way to Philadelphia, many Dallas Catholics did the same with the hope of catching a glimpse of the pontiff.
Deacon Mike Seibold and his wife Cathie of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in McKinney accompanied six other parishioners for the trip, spending a week at the World Meeting of Families prior to the pope’s arrival and presence at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26.
Although the song, speech and dance event was highlighted by performances from various artists, including The Fray, comedian Jim Gaffigan, and singers Aretha Franklin and Andre Boccelli, it was the pope that everyone came to see.
Deacon Seibold said he was caught off guard by how much the Holy Father’s words moved him emotionally, in particular, Pope Francis’ unscripted remarks that night about the importance of families, despite all of the many challenges.
“I knew (Pope Francis’ message on families) was going to be significant but I really didn’t know that I would feel it emotionally as much as I did,” Deacon Seobold said. “I thought I had reached a point where something like that wouldn’t reach me emotionally but it really did.”
Elsewhere in that same crowd, 40 pilgrims from St. Monica Catholic Church, many of whom are native Spanish-speakers, hung on the pope’s every word as he spoke to them in Spanish.
Martha Gonzales said even though she was one of the single young adults on the trip with the group, it was encouraging to hear the pope acknowledge the difficulties in raising a family, while still insisting that families are worth fighting for.
“Yes, it’s not easy having your own family, but it’s definitely worth it and you just have to keep fighting to better your family,” Gonzales said. “Even though I’m single, I have to keep working on my family.”
Ten students from Ursuline Academy also made the trip in partnership with a sister school from Wilmington, Del. The group stayed with host families of students from the Wilmington school and, together with their Delaware peers, made the one-hour drive to Philadelphia for the Mass on Sept. 27.
“This trip was much more than I expected,” said Eva-Maria Harwerth, a junior at Ursuline Academy. “My host family was amazing. It was great to compare their Ursuline school to ours in Dallas. They were just so loving and giving as though I was their daughter.”
Six students from Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas had a similar arrangement with the St. Joseph College Preparatory School in Philadelphia, the city’s Jesuit high school. Only here, they were joined by hundreds of students from Jesuit schools around the country who gathered at St. Joseph’s to celebrate Pope Francis’ arrival.
Junior Will Naquin said he was moved when the pope asked a crowd gathered outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to pray the “Our Father” with him. At that moment, he said, everyone linked hands and began to pray.
“Just the fact that the pope was leading us in prayer and the fact that we are so close as Jesuit brothers and we all linked hands….it was really special,” Naquin said.
Jesuit Dallas curriculum director Pat Naughton and Father Jay Hooks, S.J., accompanied the students during the trip. Naughton said the visit to Philadelphia was an enriching one for the students.
“They were very excited about meeting other kids from Jesuit high schools throughout the country,” Deacon Seobold said. “I think once they got here they were able to talk about and hear the enthusiasm of the other kids in seeing the Holy Father. It was a wonderful experience for them.”