GREENFIELD — This week, Leslie Seibert will fly to Philadelphia for the opportunity to see a pope for a third time.
Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia at the conclusion of the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families. The meeting’s opening ceremony was Tuesday. The pope will address the meeting’s Festival of Families on Saturday, speaking from Independence Hall to those gathered on the Independence Mall. On Sunday, the pope will celebrate Mass.
All the free passes for both appearances have been distributed, and Seibert of New Palestine is among those who plan to be there.
Seibert was on a pilgrimage to Rome with her church in 2005 when the group learned that Pope John Paul II’s health had taken a turn for the worse. Some group members stuck with the sites on their itinerary, but Seibert was among those who chose to go to St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, where they stood praying the rosary with tens of thousands of other Catholics. They were there when word came of the pope’s death.
She also joined those who stood in line to file past his body. She recalls her time in the square and the wait, during which those in line shared their stories and their memories of the pope, as a rich spiritual experience in her life.
“I didn’t even realize I stood in line four hours,” she said.
Later in that trip, she received Communion from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger two weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
This week, Seibert is hoping for another experience of deep connection among a large group of people gathered around their common faith. That feeling is like a “spiritual cloud,” she said. She felt it in Rome and hopes to feel it in Philadelphia, too.
She will travel with her 3-year-old granddaughter, Izzy. An enthusiastic grandmother, Seibert moved from Evansville to New Palestine a few years ago to be closer to her family. She’s thrilled to experience the papal visit with Izzy and looks forward to serving with her at a soup kitchen. She believes the trip can, even for someone of Izzy’s young age, communicate something important to about faith.
“I don’t think you’re ever too young to start that,” she said.
Scott Seibert, Leslie Seibert’s son and Izzy’s father, is the marriage and family enrichment coordinator in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ Office of Pro-Life and Family Life. He boarded a motorcoach Monday morning with others from the archdiocese going to Philadelphia.
Scott Seibert said preparations for the trip began in June 2014, once Philadelphia was announced as the site for the triennial gathering. The idea to fill a bus came quickly at the archdiocesan offices, Seibert said, but Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin added to that vision. Seibert said Tobin’s hope was that the group of Hoosier pilgrims would reflect the diversity of the archdiocese in ethnicity, in locations around the state and in makeup of their families.
The archdiocese set up an application process, in which applicants outlined how they would share their experiences upon their return. Seibert said it was exciting to see the ideas, which included blogging, creating ministries to help families in need and using content in Catholic school curricula.
Dave Dellacca hopes to Livestream some sessions to religion students at Scecina Memorial High School, where he serves as vice president of technology. He, his wife, Dee, and their three children are among the nearly 50 members of the Indianapolis Archdiocese making the trip. Like the Seiberts, they attend St. Michael Catholic Church in Greenfield.
Dave Dellacca thinks the pope has captured the essence of love, peace, humility and caring for the poor. He points to choices the pontiff has made, such as spending less time at the Vatican and more among people.
“So many times, I think, society is quick to create definitions for organizations based on what they don’t do,” Dellacca said. “He is creating a definition for the world based on what we do do.”
Scott Seibert speculates that humility and an approachable nature make Francis attractive to many. He noted the pope is able to utilize the technology of the age, such as having a Twitter feed, to engage people.
“A lot of the things Pope Francis is doing are seemingly radical and yet absolutely not radical,” Scott Seibert said. Still, “he is attractive to people on the fringes.”
Some of those who cannot be close to the pope during his visit are sending items with people making the journey. Scott Seibert said at papal events there is often a general blessing for sacramental items. Some school friends of the Dellacca children are sending items for blessing, such as rosaries, necklaces with beads that represent specific prayers.
Leslie Seibert is hoping for another deeply spiritual experience as she finds herself again among thousands of like-minded worshipers.
“I really hope to see and feel the love that really is going to surround this week, because we don’t have that in our world right now,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to a week of peace.”
Scott Seibert and Dave Dellacca blog about Catholic life, including the trip to Philadelphia, at brothersjourney.org.