Journey of Hope
by Cynthia Haehnel
“Benedetto! Benedetto!” The chant was barely audible at first. The words rang out over the hushed crowd. Slowly, the cheer grew from section to section. Before long, those words, which had been faint at first, had grown into a thunderous roar. “Benedetto! Benedetto!”
As I stood in the upper deck of Yankee stadium on April 20, I felt truly blessed to share this experience with my son Timothy. At the young age of 11, he was granted the opportunity of a lifetime. We were attending a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to New York. My son and I were deeply inspired by the leadership of the Holy Father and experienced memories on this journey that we will never forget.
Our journey to New York had actually begun several months beforehand, when my husband, Fred, informed me of the newly scheduled dates of Pope Benedict’s apostolic visit to America. Timothy, always the enthusiastic child, promptly reminded us that this would be a great chance to see the pope. My husband and I agreed with him. It would be considerably less expensive than traveling to Italy, and it would be an excellent opportunity for our youngest son to see the Holy Father. Our older teenage sons had both previously visited Rome and attended a papal Mass. Fred urged me to attempt to find tickets to New York.
From the beginning I assumed that obtaining tickets would be as unlikely as winning the lottery. But we began making phone calls and praying. My family and I firmly believe in the power of prayer and our prayers were answered. We got the tickets. This trip was going to require 18 hours on a bus from St. Louis to New York, but the excitement of attending Mass with our Holy Father seemed to outweigh any discomforts we would experience.
Several days before we boarded our bus for the long trip, Tim was contacted by a local TV station and was asked to “blog” his trip for other children who were not lucky enough to have such an experience. Interestingly enough, through the secular media, Tim was able to inspire his entire school as they read his daily blogs in class. He also purchased rosaries to be blessed by the Holy Father for his 5th-grade class so they could personally share his adventure. He began to realize how important being a Catholic is and how important it is to share his experience of faith.
We left St. Louis on the bus on April 17 with a diverse group of individuals, all traveling together with a common faith. (Altogether there were five busloads of pilgrims to New York from St. Louis including seminarians and students, religious and lay people.) The Carmelite sisters on our bus would sing the “hours” several times a day, and that kept our minds focused on the real reason for our journey. We prayed together and shared our life and faith experiences on the bus. We arrived at our destination several hours late tired and hungry and we were greeted by the smiling face of our own Archbishop Raymond Burke, who had been waiting to share Mass with all of us. He told us of his own journey to Washington the day before, and gave each of us his blessing. We were suddenly renewed and ready for what was ahead!
My son and I spent the next day being tourists, and tried our best to see the most we could of the “city that never sleeps”. The Statue of Liberty was quite impressive. Tim remarked that without freedom and liberty we would not be in New York to see the pope. Interestingly, the pope’s homily at Mass the next day would be on just that subject. As we returned to the hotel, I realized that our journey on these days was as important as the big event on Sunday.
On Sunday morning, along with nearly 60 thousand other Catholics, we proceeded to Yankee Stadium. Despite the cold mist and clouds, the excitement was greater than I have ever experienced. In retrospect, the gloomy weather was fitting, as Pope Benedict had just visited Ground Zero earlier in the morning.
Once we entered Yankee Stadium, music started to play, and people began to sing and cheer. Just before the beginning of Mass, there was a break in the clouds and the sun shone through. We all joked that this abrupt change in the weather must be a miracle; but the sisters reminded us that they had been praying for the sun to show itself and they had had no doubt whatever that the mist would clear. White doves were released into the air, and the whole stadium was swept up by the chants of “Benedetto”. The excitement grew throughout the stands as the faithful waited for their first glimpse of Pope Benedict.
The Holy Father soon arrived in his “Popemobile”. The cheers continued as he made his way to the altar.
It has often been commented that the current pope appears to be very reserved. On this day, he appeared to be transformed by the event as much as we were. We all saw a loving grandfather. While different in style from John Paul II, nevertheless Pope Benedict beamed with the love of Christ. His homily reminded us that “true freedom can only be found in Christ”. He called each one of us back to genuine obedience to the Truth of Christ, and he spoke of our Christian freedom. The words of our Holy Father were inspiring to all who listened.
As we left the Mass with the throngs of others, I thought perhaps we were just caught up in the moment, but upon my return to St. Louis, I learned that my husband had taped the entire event for us. Replaying the telecast I watched clergy, laity, and media all inspired by the Mass and the words of our humble pontiff. He ignited American Catholics. I know he ignited us.
My son and I will never quite be the same, as we believe we saw the face of Christ in our earthly father that day at Yankee Stadium. I believe he truly saw his American flock and was equally moved. We will never forget his parting message from his visit, reminding us that “Christ is our Hope”.
Cynthia Haehnel is an attorney who lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with her husband Fred and children. She is a member of the Public Policy Board of the Missouri Catholic Conference and frequently lectures on pro-life issues. She is also a long-time member of Women for Faith & Family. Timothy is a fifth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo School.
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