On Saturday, September 26th, the parkway dedicated to Benjamin Franklin was filled by more than eight hundred thousand people, who came to welcome Pope Francis at his arrival in the city of Philadelphia for the papal visit that concluded the World Meeting of Families.
Several artists entertained the families, starting in the afternoon, as they waited for the Pope along the avenue: small children, grandparents, boys and girls of different ages, some of whom were even sitting on the lowest trees on the roadside, mothers with babies in their arms, smiling as if they were wondering what they were doing there in the middle of all those people in green, like the t-shirts of the World Meeting.
The festival of families began at 7:00 pm, with the arrival of the Holy Father. Presented by the American actor Mark Wahlberg, the time of celebration was marked by interwoven moments of testimony and music; among others, Andrea Bocelli and Aretha Franklin sang, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was founded by Fritz Scheel in 1900 and now has over one hundred musicians, resounded.
Yet, the families were those who warmed the hearts of those present, as they told six stories in the presence of Pope Francis: a young engaged couple from Australia, who will marry at the end of this year, witnessed about how the choice of chastity has been a premarital grace for them, and how praying the rosary has helped them on the path of engagement.
Then testimonies were given by a family from New York, of with twelve children; a married couple who celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary this year; and a couple from Nigeria, who told about how the pain of losing a child became for them the occasion to grow closer to Christ and the Christian community. So that the world's regions marked by war and persecution would not be forgotten, during the festival a family from Jordan also reminded the families present of how difficult their lives are, but also how closely united they are in love for Christ, for whom they really have "given up everything except the faith."
A Ukrainian woman, accompanied by her sons—one of whom suffers from cerebral palsy—also told about how, even after her husband left her, she has always put her trust in God and has always felt His constant presence in prayer, knowing that He "always has an established plan" for her children. Even her son's illness has been a reason for the woman to confirm that God has given them joy and blessings in spite of the hardship that they must face.
Concluding the celebration, the Pope underlined that the family has an "identity card of divine citizenship," so that "within the heart of the family, truth, goodness and beauty can truly grow." He again called attention to young people and to grandparents, two identities of the family which need special care: "Children, whether young or older, are the future—he said—they are the strength that moves us forward. We place our hope in them. Grandparents are the living memory of the family. They passed on the faith, they transmitted the faith, to us. To look after grandparents, to look after children, is the expression of love. A people that doesn’t know how to look after its children or grandparents is a people that has no future. Because it doesn’t have strength or the memory to go forward."