Five buses, 478 tickets and one big field trip to see Pope Francis

 Monsignor John Marine and parishioner Kathy Nachtman stand in front of a statue of St. Katharine Drexel outside of St. Bede's parish. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

Monsignor John Marine and parishioner Kathy Nachtman stand in front of a statue of St. Katharine Drexel outside of St. Bede's parish. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

As more details of the impending visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia emerge, Catholic parishes around the Delaware Valley are gearing up to see Il Papa in person.


Turns out, that, in itself, is an exercise in faith and patience.

St. Bede the Venerable in Holland, Bucks County, is one of the largest parishes in the diocese, with 3,200 families — or about 11,000 registered members. At just over 50 years old, it’s a relatively new church, situated on a leafy 23-acre plot near Southampton. St. Bede’s was also one of the 219 local parishes given tickets to some of the most desirable papal events — the Festival of Families, where Andrea Bocelli and Juanes will perform, and the papal Mass.

In fact, it received 478 tickets for each day, more than twice the number allotted to the entire diocese of Allentown.

At St. Bede’s, a three-member team has been overseeing the coordinating the trip and handing out those tickets. Monsignor John Marine feeds information to the parish in his weekly newsletters and sermons, while office assistant Barbara Rogowski tallies the tickets, and parishioner Kathy Nachtman talks to the World Meeting of Families.

So far, St. Bede’s has chartered five buses to take parishioners into the city for the Sunday papal Mass.

“They were full, what a month ago?” said Marine. Rogowski nodded. That’s about 240 people, he said. There’s also a waiting list, but Marine said they aren’t planning on booking any more buses. As for those parishioners who want to take SEPTA into Center City, they’ll still be able to join the rest of the St. Bede’s family on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, using the event tickets for their parish. At the time of writing, under 100 tickets to the Mass remain.

Those tickets — and a kind of easing up in travel restrictions during the weekend of the papal visit — have led to a “turnabout” in feelings about the event, said Marine.

“I think one of the big things that helped was they know where they’re going to be standing,” he said. “They’re going to be standing in front of 22nd and 20th street, in front of Eakins Oval,” where the altar will be set up for Mass.

While things seem to be running smoothly for St. Bede’s, Nachtman said they’re still waiting for some pertinent information.

“We still don’t know exactly where we’re going to be dropped off at this point,” she said. “We’re still kind of waiting to tell people what we know because it’s still changing.”

They also don’t know what time the buses will leave Holland.

Spiritual preparation

Nachtman, who is attending the event with her husband and high school-age daughter, said she isn’t too concerned about her personal preparations. The logistics, she said, will take care of themselves but prepping the spirit is important too.

On her to-do list: “Definitely pray and try to stay focused in that way and … make sure we have a joyful spirit among us.”

Both she and Marine saw Pope John Paul II when he came to Philadelphia in 1979. Thinking back to that visit washes away anxiety about the upcoming visit.

Marine, who had only been ordained for two years at that point, said for that Mass, the whole city felt holy.

“There was singing. There was just joy, and, for a moment in time, Philadelphia was just transfixed,” he said.

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