It’s always better without a script

“This evening, we have come together to pray, to pray as a family, to make our homes the joyful face of the Church. To meet that God who did not want to come into our world in any other way than through a family. To meet ‘God with us,’ the God who is always in our midst.” – Pope Francis

I discovered three things Saturday night that are hard to control:

1.     A 20-month-old baby

2.     Hundreds of thousands of people

3.     A pope.

Although, certainly, people try.

The OSV team — Matthew Bunson, Gretchen Crowe and myself — walked about four miles in a circuitous route from our hotel near the Delaware River in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Art Museum where the Festival of Families was held. Tucked away were our “golden tickets” to our assigned seats near the event stage. (Thank you, Publisher Greg Erlandson and our friends of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families!)

Because the city center is shut down for security reasons, there are no buses, taxis or private vehicles. And because the Independence Hall area was closed off for a papal speech, we had to make a wide detour on our way to the Festival.

But the company was congenial, the weather was good and the pilgrims all around us were in high spirits. We passed Colombians singing in the streets, school kids hiking en masse and, of course, families with strollers or carrying backpacks packed with snacks and other necessities.

Once we entered the secure area near the stage, the crowd was more dense, especially around the arteries where Pope Francis would pass in parade. But pilgrims were finding lots to do, including eat (plenty of food tents set up), watch the early performances on the stage, chase little kids around and for a lucky few we spotted, nap under the trees.

We made our way to our seats and met Dr. Joseph White and his family, including his nephew, Nathan, said 20-month-old. First, kudos to Nathan’s parents for producing such an adorable little kid. More kudos for keeping him relatively happy (the cuddly Francis doll — “little pope” — helped).  And he really liked seeing the “big pope.” But almost 2 is almost 2, and toddlers can stay put in a stroller for only so long. Let’s just say snacks, walks and, eventually, going to sleep helped (at least, it kept him in the stroller).

Nathan was probably not the only little kid to fall asleep during the lengthy Festival, but it’s certain that the excitement of waiting for a pope to arrive kept all the adults awake. There was undeniable electricity in anticipation; we knew he was coming, we knew the schedule, we could follow events on Twitter in real time, and, once Pope Francis neared the Parkway, we could watch on the big screens that were placed everywhere. Truly stunning was the moment when we realized that the flashing lights and vehicles we were watching on TV had become reality, with Pope Francis actually driving by the Parkway accompanied by a blaze of light, a roar of excitement and shouts of greeting.

Performances had begun at 5:30 p.m., and the pope arrived sometime after 7:30, when the entertainment sections became mixed with moving testimonies from families coming from around the world. You can read more about the performances, and see pictures and video here. Let’s just say it was fun to see Aretha Franklin, The Fray, Andrea Bocelli, Mark Wahlberg and more share the stage with the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

There were many moving moments, but the best came at the end of the evening, when Pope Francis began his prepared remarks, which quickly changed into a more spontaneous address. You can read what he had planned to say here and what he actually said here.

Here are some highlights we shared on Twitter:

OSV 9:20pm via Hootsuite

The parkway is silent and still, listening to the Holy Father's teaching #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:23pm via Hootsuite

Pope Francis says that God loves families who love each other #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:26pm via Hootsuite

In the family there are difficulties, overcome with love #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:27pm via Hootsuite

Love is moving forward #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:27pm via Hootsuite

Take care of the children and grandparents, he tells us #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:28pm via Hootsuite

We place our hope in the children. Grandparents are the living memory. #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:30pm via Hootsuite

La familia es bella #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:30pm via Hootsuite

Let the day end in peace #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:44pm via Hootsuite

Pope asks what time Mass is tomorrow, to great laughter #popeinphilly #wmf2015

OSV 9:45pm via Hootsuite

Holy Father leads us in a Hail Mary, prayer to St Joseph, gives blessing #popeinphilly #wmf2015

After Pope Francis left the stage, performances continued for a short time, and, as we joined the 300,000 or so people leaving the Parkway, the evening ended spectacularly with the Philadelphia Orchestra on stage and a burst of fireworks behind the Art Museum.

We had an hourlong hike ahead of us, passing through the debris field of litter only a crowd that large can make, already being cleaned up by city workers (Thank you!). We were among fellow pilgrims (because: pope), watched over by every type of law enforcement official imaginable (Thank you!), and full of the love of Christ the Holy Father had spoken to us about (Thank you!). It was a good way to end another amazing day in Philadelphia.

Cathy Dee is OSV’s social media editor.