- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims made their way to Philadelphia for a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the last day of his first-ever visit to the United States. Here are some of their stories:



Many pilgrims who didn’t arrive real early for the pope’s outdoor Mass on Sunday faced long waits to get through blockslong security checkpoints.

But many seemed remarkably calm about it, and some even found humor in the hourslong queues.

Philadelphia lawyer Maureen McBride, 55, had been in line for three hours with her two daughters when she conceded she probably wouldn’t make it in time for Mass.

“We’ll probably be late for Mass, but that’s nothing unusual,” she said.



Many of those who came to attend the papal Mass had to settle for being far from the altar, watching on one of 40 jumbo TV screens. But they were still grateful.

John and Mimi Miller of Wallingford, Pennsylvania, had prized tickets for the front viewing area but abandoned attempts to make it through long security lines, fearing they would be too late for the start of Mass.

Settling on watching it on one of the big screens, they had no regrets.

“Just to be this close to him is a real spiritual experience,” John Miller said.

Antonia Ayala, 70, from a Hispanic parish in Newark, New Jersey, felt the same way - after a 4-mile walk from the city’s sports complex, a bus drop-off spot.

“Even if it’s just a screen, being this close is enough to feel his blessing,” she said. “I’d travel further if I had to.”



Dotty Andalora endured tight security and nearly had her camera confiscated in order to see Pope Francis on Sunday - and she’s not even Roman Catholic.

Andalora, 55, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, came instead for her friend Louise “Weez” Gatti-Russell, who has advanced breast cancer and recently developed lung cancer.

Friends since 1984, Andalora said she would do anything for Weez, whose immune system was too weak to attend the papal Mass in person.

“I love this pope,” she said, “and I’m hoping to find a miracle for my girlfriend.”

Gatti-Russell, 48, of Philadelphia, was getting regular text updates from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, said Andalora, who was wearing a pink T-shirt with Pope Francis’ image. It was covered in marker messages seeking papal intercession.

“Her spirits are lifted because of this,” she said.



Cielito Mariani, a medical doctor who works in clinical research, says faith is an integral part of her life and work.

She sees healthy people become sick seemingly out of nowhere, and sick people live beyond their prognoses.

Mariani, 40, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem, said religion offers an explanation.

“There’s something bigger than science, bigger than doctors,” Mariani said Sunday as she waited for an afternoon Mass with Pope Francis.

Raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mariani carried a neon green sign asking Pope Francis to pray for her family and for Puerto Rico. It also says she’s praying for him.



Mike and Barbara Kaiser of Philadelphia stayed away from the papal events on Saturday, scared off by warnings that travel and security restrictions would make it difficult to get around.

Then they watched the television coverage and decided they had to come.

“We were crying, it was so beautiful,” Mike said. “We looked at each other and said we have to go.”

They said it was a breeze getting into the city by train Sunday.

“We grew up, live in and work in this city and we’re so happy that people have been true to it. There’s been real brotherly love,” Barbara said.

The draw of the pope was so powerful that Mike said he was willing to miss watching the Philadelphia Eagles, the city’s favorite sports team.

“We can see them any Sunday,” he said.



Sarah and Terrence Williams, both 36, of Williamstown, New Jersey, have been trying for more than a year to have a baby.

Doctors have told them it will be a challenge, and they were hoping attending the papal Mass might result in a miracle.

“We’re hoping for a papal blessing,” Terrence Williams said. “Hopefully he’ll drive by and just his acknowledgment will be the blessing we need to get our miracle.”

Terrence, a produce delivery driver, and Sarah, a money counter at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, met 10 years ago.

Sarah hails from East Hartford, Connecticut, and was raised Catholic. Terrence is from Blackwood, New Jersey, and was raised Methodist and still considers that his religion.

“To me it really doesn’t matter if you’re Methodist or Catholic … as long as you believe Christ died for your sins,” Terrence said.



Myrian Preite, a 32-year-old civil engineer from Warminster, Pennsylvania, came to the United States from Colombia 16 years ago.

On Sunday, she stood along a metal barrier by the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with a Colombian flag, waiting for Pope Francis to celebrate an outdoor Mass.

When she got to the U.S., she was so embarrassed by her accent that she was afraid to speak English. But she credits her Catholic faith - which her parents handed down to her in Bogota, where she was born - with having the courage to overcome that fear.

She said Pope Francis’ appeal to Americans to embrace immigrants resonates with her deeply.

“That’s something he said,” she said. “We should be proud, embrace both lives. I’m a huge Eagles fan, but I watch soccer. We celebrate Thanksgiving, we did the turkey. We celebrate Colombian Independence Day.”


Associated Press writer Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.

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