A number of our sisters were able to be in Philadelphia last fall for Pope Francis' visit. However, undoubtedly, the one who traveled the greatest distance was Sr. Ellen Callaghan who came from St. Mary's, Alaska, with two members of the region where she ministers. We were delighted when she wrote about their experiences during that very special week!
On September 16 I had the joy of traveling to the Philadelphia
and Anthony Ulak who live in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region of our diocese and were the winners of the Yup'ik
Eskimo lottery to participate in the World Meeting of Families (WMOF).
I used air miles and accompanied Caroline and Anthony because my family was hosting them for the 10-day visit. We arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, a few days prior to WMOF so that we could visit and give presentations on our Yup'ik way of life at Assisi House and at two schools. With samples of winter gear, dance fans, headdresses, a small Yup'ik drum, and other traditional items, Anthony and Caroline enthusiastically shared stories about life in Scammon Bay on the Bering Sea and a few unique things about life in Bush Alaska. Those who attended the presentations were most welcoming and very interested in the slides, clothing, and stories. The children loved trying to use the Yup'ik yo-yo, getting dressed in a quspeq, and learning an Eskimo dance to the beat of Anthony’s drumming. The elders were moved to quiet prayer listening to the singing of the Our Father in the Eskimo language. They followed the words on the screen and tried to identify the seven letters of the alphabet not used in the Yup'ik language. On Saturday we took a ferry across the Delaware Bay so Anthony and Caroline could have lunch in New Jersey. On Sunday we participated in a fund-raising dinner in Maryland to add still another state to the east coast trip.
|Sharing stories of life among the Yup'ik Eskimos with east coast children|
On Monday our hostess, Joan Callaghan, took us to the train station to catch the rapid rail for our daily commute to Philadelphia Convention Center—another new experience. After a quick hour at the registration center for the 21,000 international visitors, we had time for a double-decker bus tour of central Philadelphia. Magnificent colorful banners lined all the streets and many buildings had huge welcoming signs for the papal visit. Several streets were barricaded in preparation for the pope’s arrival on Saturday. The WMOF Congress took place from noon Tuesday to noon on Friday. Over 120 cardinals and bishops were present for the daily Mass in the huge arena. For two of the Masses, we each ushered one of the 60+ priest to his Communion station. This was a little bit of a challenge in a congregation of over 21,000 people. Caroline and Anthony, along with an elderly couple from Mexico, presented Offertory gifts at Thursday’s Mass. In addition to attending Mass, the keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, we also volunteered for an hour of perpetual adoration and the Catholic Relief Service’s (CSR) Helping Hands Project. The CRS project packed over 205,000 bags of grain meals for families in Burkina Faso, Africa. This was definitely an outstanding experience of joyful service.
|Sr. Ellen, Caroline, and Anthony helped package grain meals for African families.|
After a week of daily commutes, we decided to rest on Saturday, stay with our hostess, and watch Pope Francis’ arrival on TV. On Sunday we headed back to Philadelphia for the 4:30 Papal Mass. Many people thought we were crazy to try to get to Philadelphia with its heightened security. However, we were on a mission and went full speed ahead. Up at the crack of dawn, we began our trip at the train station in Wilmington for the express train to Philadelphia. Only passengers with ID and the special Papal Visit ticket were permitted on any SEPTA train that day. Both Wilmington and Philadelphia were super prepared for the immense crowd. Within two hours, we passed through Wilmington security with sniffing dogs, were ushered onto the waiting train, walked about two miles to the metal detector at Ben Franklin Parkway, and were sitting in our reserved seats (compliments of our sisters) by 9:15 A.M. Our journey was quick, smooth, and worry-free with short lines and numerous warm, friendly people all along the way, especially the security personnel. We had ample time to watch the final decorations being placed in the huge sanctuary; check out the vendors; enjoy our picnic lunch; visit with people in our section; and watch priests, bishops, and cardinals arriving from all directions. To our total surprise, about 3:45 P.M. the pope mobile was spotted approaching the street two rows behind us! Everyone clapped and shouted with joy. Caroline kept calm enough to take a video of the pope waving to us. Our seats were very close to the altar but at a right angle so we were unable to see anything except on the jumbo screen provided for our section. However, this made everything seem even closer. What a holy experience! And yes, Holy Father, we will not forget to pray for you.
|During a visit to our motherhouse, Anthony and Caroline stopped to admire our sculpture of St. Francis.|
Caroline, Anthony, and I are deeply grateful to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for their scholarship funds, the Black and Indian Missions for their housing donation, and the several parishes of the Y-K Region for their generous donation to offset our incidental expenses and meals. The Alaskan Shepherd gave us diocesan lapel pins which were given to individuals who helped us with directions or engaged us in conversion about life or ministry in Bush Alaska. Caroline and Anthony made several new friends—from local train conductors to Canadian parish ministers and the bishop who recognized our quspeq to students in Chester, Pennsylvania, with whom we visited and who now want us to come to their first basketball game! “Quyana cakneq” to all for these life-changing experiences during the World Meeting of Families!