The Francis effect: Midstaters find joy, love in final message from ‘the people’s pope’

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WHTM) – The word buzzing around Pope Francis’ audience for his final mass Sunday afternoon was ‘wild’: the crowds, the atmosphere, the excitement — it was a wild day in Philadelphia.

Sunday morning, six hours before the papal mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway, thousands upon thousands of parishioners were pumped.

Groups danced and sang, bought stuffed Francis dolls, and found spots along the fence for an eventual glance at the passing pope.

Patricia and Mary Eline came in from York Saturday night to see the Holy Father.

“We thought, even if we have to watch it on a Jumbotron, we are here,” Patricia Eline said.

He’s not just the pope, he’s their pope.

“Because he’s the people’s pope,” Lynda Britt of Mechanicburg said. She and the rest of her family — Brian, Rachael and Emily — came to volunteer.

“It’s just an amazing environment to be in,” she said, “and you don’t get that at home from TV.”

“I haven’t seen an argument yet,” said Johanne Slattery, another Mechanicsburg parishioner. “I haven’t seen anybody pushing or shoving; people just working together. So, it’s the Francis effect. I’m going to go with that.”

Just seeing their pope is enough. Once again, as the popemobile made the rounds, screams, cheers, and even tears rose from the throngs of the faithful.

“Oh, fantastic,” Mary Eline said of seeing Francis for the first time. “It got me right here.” She tapped her hand over her heart.

His presence seems to embody his message.

“Despite what might divide us, whether you’re from different countries or different religions, it seems like love is the unifying message that he has,” said Sean Connolly, at the Mass with his family (Bethann, Colleen, and Patrick) from Camp Hill.

The Connollys headed into the crowd for Mass as it started around 4 p.m. The excitement on the sidewalks and on the grass was replaced by reverent observation of tradition.

A million-plus people joined in prayer and song, and wished each other well.

Nearly two hours later, Francis ended with a familiar, humble request: Don’t forget to “pray for me.”

“He makes us the important part of this church,” Connolly said. “He’s not the important part. We are.”

That’s the message the Midstate family is taking with them as they leave, walking past hundreds — or more — still trying to get past security and into the venue. They found a lot of love in the city named for it.

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