The Pope's Travels
USA and Australia!
I’ve been told that those who love you most know the dreams of your heart and yearn to make those dreams come true. I’ve experienced that over and over in my life and once again, through this pilgrimage. It began with my son, Brendan, who cashed in all his frequent flyer miles to surprise me at Christmas with a round trip ticket for the week the Pope would be in New York. My son, my own Augustine, who has strayed from the faith he was nurtured in, sacrificed his own vacation miles to enable me to be with our Holy Father. What love! My “Monica heart” dedicated the pilgrimage to him. In addition to Brendan’s sacrifice, my beautiful Gallagher family chipped in to give me the gift of an experiential visit to New York that would include all that the city has to offer, like a Broadway show (my dream of 30 years ago as an undergrad Theatre major), sights like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, beautiful Central Park (which bloomed its most vibrant colors and fragrant scents in honor of Our Papa), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and much, much more! I had the most caring and knowledgeable tour guides in my dear sister, Jenna, her husband, Brian, and my sister, Michele—all of whom sacrificed time from busy jobs and schedules to treat me like a VIP. What love! Back home, my dear Rob kept the home fires burning, the carpool running, and the blood sugars steady. Mum and Dad gave my family dinner and kept constant vigil for me. My Monday night prayer group, Paula, Julie, and Liz, offered their prayers; my Pro Sanctity family offered their prayers; the CEC community offered their prayers. What love!
The Vicar of Christ came to us also in a spirit of love, embodying the words of his first encyclical, God is Love and the impact of his visit was an enduring sense of HOPE! He confounded the secular media, who expected stern rhetoric and admonition, and instead offered us words of healing, guidance, and promise. His countenance was one of genuine care, devotion, joy, and warmth.
What made the greatest impression on me, was observing the tremendous effect his visit had on US! Love demands a response, whether it be rejection, reciprocity or something in between. I marvel at the whole-hearted response of Americans. We have not become so jaded that we scoff or dismiss an extended hand, instead, we responded like little children delighting in the loving attention of our Father.
I especially rejoiced in the receptivity of New Yorkers. Benedict’s visit was like a soothing balm to weary souls. My brother-in-law, Brian, (who is also a military brat and therefore well-traveled) commented on living in New York by saying that, “Everything is harder here.” I thought his words summed up my own observations very well, with all due respect to my family and friends who live there; life is not easy in NYC. Most apparent is the incredible expense of everything. In Nebraska, we would never think to stand in line for TWO HOURS (no exaggeration) for a hamburger as we did at the Shake Shack but that is exactly what we and many, many others did because “cheap and cheerful” restaurants are hard to find in Manhattan. (It was delicious, by the way, and I have to admit their French fries even rivaled those of Runza!) To go anywhere, one usually must navigate public transportation (private vehicles are expensive to park, if you can find a space—Brian’s was stolen the second day after he moved to the city). The subways are filthy and the gypsy cabs are often driven by people who have no knowledge of the city. Once arriving at your subway stop, you can usually count on a long walk still to get to your destination. People move like herds through the streets and waiting in long lines is typical. I was surprised to see how many New Yorkers owned dogs—but their life isn’t easy either. I walked my sister’s dog around the block, expecting to find a small patch of grass for him (none) and desperately tried to keep his little paws off broken glass but shards were everywhere. New York is an amazingly dazzling place to visit but it would be difficult to live there. How appropriate that the theme of this visit would be hope!
My visit included seeing the many sights New York has to offer and one of my favorite experiences was touring Ellis Island. What a remarkable awareness-raiser that was to the plight of the immigrant! As a Cooperative Apostolic Oblate, we have been studying Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, God is Love, throughout the year. We ended the year with our last few sessions devoted to viewing a current world issue (it was Immigration!) through the lens of our Holy Father’s teaching. My Ellis Island visit has come to mind in many hours of reflection since my trip.
I was SO impressed by the extraordinary effort of the Archdiocese of New York, the New York City Police Department and the many, many people who went above and beyond to accommodate the pilgrims who had traveled to the city to see the Holy Father. We certainly felt welcome! There were funny moments, too, like when seeing the jumbo-tron screens on the interstate that read: “Heavy Traffic to Yankee Stadium expected for Sunday. Use Mass Transit.” I can just see the Dept. of Roads workers who came up with that one chuckling amongst themselves!
While walking through Battery Park with my sisters, I was stunned to see friends, Kim and Emily Becker, from Omaha pass by. Who would expect that in a city of over 8 million people, I’d run into someone that I knew! Kim and Emily were with a small group from the Intercessors of the Lamb.
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the U.S. was closely followed by many and the response to his addresses has been very positive. My sister and I visited the Apostolic Oblates at the Bethany in Brooklyn and, of course, they were all gathered around the T.V. Sue Miller quipped, “It’s been like this since the Pope landed in America. It’s like the Super Bowl for Apostolic Oblates!” After attending the Mass at Yankee Stadium, I joined my New York family and friends for a dinner at Michele’s and had the opportunity to talk to those who were unable to be at the Mass but were glued to the T.V. They were so happy to have the Holy Father in their midst! In the weeks since my visit, I’ve had many friends who have poured over his talks while in the U. S. and they are filled with fresh insights. I’m sure that careful study of the Pope’s words while in the states will yield fruit for years to come.
The coverage afforded by the media actually gave those watching from home a better view than those of us whose seats were in the extreme corner of the left field line on the highest tier. ;-) But I was there!!!
While at the Mass, I offered prayers for each special person in my life (all the dears mentioned above plus many, many more like my sisters in the Institute of Apostolic Oblates; my patient spiritual director, Teresa; our dedicated PS board; friends who mentor and challenge me, like Rita, Bernadette and Jean; priests, like Msgr. Vaccari, Fr. Joe Hannefeldt, Fr. Carl Zoucha, Fr. Frank Jindra, the late Msgr. Kenny who have helped me find my Way; My entire extended family but especially my Aunt Lorraine, whose witness about unconditional love for family shaped me; every apostolate close to my heart (like Pro Sanctity, KVSS, the Pro Life Movement, Ave Maria’s Institute for Pastoral Theology, The Institute for Priestly Formation, OCBS, etc.); my former hair stylist, Jill (who is like a modern day Pierre Toussaint) and many, many more! I prayed for a lifetime of people in my community who have loved me through good times and bad and have inspired me by their own lives to try each day to be more Christ-like.
My trip to New York will long be remembered for so many wonderful sights, delights and insights! I continue to reflect on the many graces received through this experience and my heart is filled with gratitude. It truly was amazing!