A local Hispanic women’s group has filmed an upbeat video welcoming “Papa Francisco” to the United States.
Three Latino families have rented a motor home in Richfield, which soon will be occupied by six adults and eight children on a road trip to see the pope.
A St. Paul woman, Alicia Menchaca, is taking off on a papal blitz of her own, hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis in every city he visits this week — Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia.
Across Minnesota, Catholics are excitedly preparing for their “pilgrimages” to see Pope Francis on his first visit to the United States. It’s a poignant journey for Latinos. “When we see the Holy Father, we see our face,” explained an emotional Patricio Pena, of Richfield, who is heading out Tuesday on the motor home journey. “He speaks our language, knows our lives, knows our sufferings. He is our voice.”
Other Catholics are equally enthused about a pope who has energized his church.
“They call it the Francis effect,” said Tim Lawrence, communication coordinator for St. Pius X Church in White Bear Lake, which organized a bus trip for 57 people from 11 parishes. “With all that we’ve gone through in the archdiocese, there’s a renewed hope for the future. And we’ve seen more people come back to the church.”
Minnesota is home to an estimated 1.1 million Catholics, and hundreds will be traveling to the East Coast this week to catch a glimpse of the pope during his Sept. 23-27 visit.
All expect a glimpse or more of their Holy Father. Some will be particularly close to the action.
Ryan Currens, for example, will be sitting on the south lawn of the White House Wednesday morning when Pope Francis steps out with President Obama — thanks to a surprise invitation from the White House.
Currens, an administrator at Assumption Church in Richfield, had sent a letter to President Obama this summer encouraging him to heed Pope Francis’ environmental views. He heard nothing back until last month, when his phone rang just as he and his family sat down to burgers at McDonald’s.
The woman calling told Currens that the president was inviting a few people from each state to attend the White House event, and they were looking for a diverse group. They particularly liked that he was a military veteran.
Thinking it could be a prank, Currens said he’d get back to her. The next day, he looked up the White House phone number online, called the switchboard, and asked to speak to the woman who called him. The call transferred through. He landed three tickets, one for himself, his wife and his parish priest.
“This will be great, especially with this pope,” said Currens. “He’s got a good grasp of the core of the church. You’re always seeing him helping the poor, and that’s what the church is supposed to be about.”
Folks such as Adam Kneepkens, a university student from Duluth, had to work a lot harder to get up close and personal. Kneepkens, a sophomore at St. Louis University, desperately wanted to see the pope celebrate mass in Philadelphia Sunday — “but not from five blocks back.”
So when the roughly 10,000 tickets for space close to the pontiff went online last week, Kneepkens was ready. He had 14 of his family and friends stationed on their computers, ready to nab some tickets as the countdown began.
“I was sitting in my apartment, with my computer, my iPad, my iPhone,” said Kneepkens. “We kept hitting refresh, refresh, hoping we’d click at the exact right moment.
One friend did — scoring four tickets for Kneepkens and friends, who literally jumped for joy. “A lot of young people feel a whole new dimension to the church right now,” said Kneepkens. “He [Francis] has rebranded the faith in a way that is warm and welcoming for all. ”
Other Minnesotans will be getting excellent views of Pope Francis thanks to Minnesota’s congressional delegation. Each member was able to invite one person to observe the pope’s address to Congress. Bishop Donald Kettler of the St. Cloud Diocese, for example, will be among those in the House gallery.
Estela Manancero, director of Latino ministries for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, scored another in. She is president of the National Catholic Association of Diocesan Directors of Hispanic Ministry. She expects to be part of a delegation presenting a special cross to Pope Francis in Philadelphia.
‘Holiest of the holy?’
If there was an award for per capita papal participation, it might go to the Catholics in White Bear Lake. The only two churches in the archdiocese that have organized significant group trips — St. Pius X Church and St. Mary of the Lake Church — stand a couple miles apart. The St. Mary group includes young people from the archdiocese commission of black Catholics.
“We might be the holiest of the holy,” joked St. Mary’s youth minister Justin Kelly.
Most Minnesota bishops will be attending the papal religious events in Washington. Bishop Andrew Cozzens also will have a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican Embassy, accompanied by Mary Jo Copeland and her husband, Richard, founders of Sharing and Caring Hands shelter in Minneapolis.
Menchaca is among the few who hope to see Pope Francis at each stop, even if it’s only a tiny glimpse. The St. Paul secretary has been planning her trip all year, arranging transportation details and her first Airbnb stay for maximum potential papal exposure.
“When Pope Francis became pope, I felt a connection to him,” she explained. “It’s like I’m being called to see him.”
Likewise, Pena doesn’t have any special deals, but that doesn’t matter. A construction worker active in his Minneapolis church, he has a firm faith that is not daunted by the prospects of a cross-country drive with eight children. “I’m not worried,” he said. “This is an adventure of love.”