(Vatican Radio) What was it actually like to be at the Prayer Meeting for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia on Saturday night? Our correspondent Seán Patrick Lovett was there and got a bird's eye view of the Pope, the performers and the people in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The noise is always the same. It starts as a "whoop" and ends as a "yell" - thousands of vocal chords vibrating in unison. And it always means the same thing: he's arrived.
When Pope Francis arrived on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Saturday night for the Festival of Families, all I could think was: don't his arms ever get tired? I mean, the Parkway is nearly ten kilometers long and, driving in the popemobile through the immense crowds lining the route since early afternoon, the Pope never stopped waving and blessing to left and right the entire way. My own arms were aching just watching him.
When the papal motorcade drew up beside the massive podium it was in a blaze of flashing police lights, screaming sirens, and roaring security vehicles. I counted 21 motor bikes and 25 bullet-proof behemoths that dwarfed the car they were there to protect. No stopping to drink a cup of maté here, no tossing soccer scarves at the Pope, or even getting closer than a hundred yards to him. Americans, who are used to this kind of thing, are saying they have never seen security like this. Neither have I. Over the past five days I have been searched by the Secret Service, frisked by the FBI, prodded by police, sniffed by bomb squad dogs, and passed through more metal detectors than they have at Heathrow.
But I was talking about Pope Francis and the Family Fest in Philadelphia.
How to describe it? I suppose it was something between a music concert, a variety show, a folk festival, and a multimedia presentation - with the occasional testimony by families thrown in to remind us why we were really there. It was a star-studded evening too: actor/producer, Mark Wahlberg, was master of ceremonies, and singing legend, Aretha Franklin, belted out her very own version of "Amazing Grace".
Then Pope Francis spoke. Instead of following his prepared speech, he chatted to the gathering about "God's overflowing love" that resulted in the creation of the world and how the culmination of that creative love is the family.
Thousands of families came from far and wide for the event and didn't appear in the least deterred - either by the length of the program or by the chill autumn wind that swept down the Parkway. They continued to applaud right to the end. But then, they were making a night of it. For them, the most important event would be the closing Mass on Sunday morning and they weren't moving. I wish I could say I was as brave.
With Pope Francis in Philadelphia - I'm Seán-Patrick Lovett