Somewhere in the middle of all the mundane tasks of getting the camera ready, packing the backpack, ironing the clothes, the impact of attending Mass said by the Pope began to dawn on me and then take hold of me. I'm still not sure how much sleep I got that night. Finally, surrendering my sleep, I left the bed at 4 a.m. to make the final preparations and make sure we all got to the bus on time.
I wanted to do more than just videotape the day's events. I wanted that tape to capture some of the feelings as well. So I took a creative risk and began the filming by taping the pre-dawn full moon and softly singing, "This is the day the Lord has made."
The first thing that struck me at the meeting place was the number of people who were there so early, so eager to be on our way. Eighteen buses of pilgrims departed from St. Margaret's. While still on the bus, the first moment of fruition came when we were handed our tickets for entrance into the Mass. Would we have good seats? The question now seems silly. The tickets read, "Upper Reserve Seating, Section 410, Row E, Seats 3, 4, 5." Already learning from John Paul II who said of the horrible weather he encountered earlier in the trip that the rain brought life and the wind was the Holy Spirit, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Well, we'll certainly be close to Heaven."
Rising on the escalators, we looked down and gasped a little to see so many people below us. At the top of the stadium, we were able to peer out over the parking lot into the virtual sea of pilgrims making their way to hear Mass, to see the pope, to be blessed by him. Hmm, this Catholicism is a pretty big thing. From three pilgrims driving to the bus stop, to what now seemed like a small group of people waiting in the dark in Bel Air, we had grown into the thousands of people who traveled from all over the region, all of a common mind and heart that day.
We found our seats, settled in with our stuff, and left my husband there to guard it while my daughter and I embarked on our crusade -- for souvenirs. This seemed like the longest wait of the day. During this time, I became aware of two feelings. First, I was disappointed that only the usual fare of t-shirts, mugs, key chains, etc. were offered. The day before I almost ran out of fingers counting up the number of rosaries I would buy for gifts for people who I knew would treasure them. But a mug? A key chain? Now that I was at the front of the line I gobbled up those t-shirts. All as a way to try to hold onto this day, this blessing, these feelings, forever.
Now the JumboTron shows his plane landing and shouts "HE IS HERE!" Again our hearts cry out in joy. Now Boyz II Men -- "who are they," I'm wondering? I must be more out of touch than I think -- begin to perform and before we know it, he really is here, at the stadium, in the midst of us. And now, the fulfillment. This is the part that is difficult to describe. It transcended ordinary human experience. The realities of earth knock at my brain. I bought batteries on sale. They turned out to be duds. I brought four hours' worth of film, but now I'll be lucky to salvage two hours of battery time. The decision came quickly: Tape only what John Paul II has to say. But now I am distracted. As I'm deciding what to tape, I'm not fully drinking in all of his sermon. I already know I'll be listening to it over and over again, I haven't missed it at all. I'm so grateful that I'll have a record of it for my daughter and someday grandchildren. I do not want this Mass to end. He has given his final blessing but has not left the altar. My husband reminds me we are to return to the bus as soon as we are dismissed. I remind him the pope himself has not left the altar yet and I cannot bear to go until the pope has left the stadium. All too quickly he does leave.
We arrive at home in time to watch John Paul II on TV as he completes his evening itinerary. We cannot get enough of this man, this living saint. From the viewpoint of my living room watching the broadcast, I make two more discoveries this day. One is that people cannot stop smiling when they are in the presence of the pope and often their smiles spill over into tears. The other is that we are not only responding to the man, John Paul II, but to the presence that always accompanies him, the Lord Jesus Christ. Little did I realize the truth to my own words in the pre-dawn hours on the bus: Our seats that day did indeed bring us close to heaven.