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Pope Francis received overwhelming cheers from hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia who waited several hours.

Pope Francis received overwhelming cheers from hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia who waited several hours.

 Pope Francis and World Meeting of Families

Jim Smith/ElHispano

Philadelphia –  Landing in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families (WMF), Saturday, Pope Francis culminated the final leg of his whirlwind schedule and was greeted by Bishop Shanahan High School’s version of the theme music of the movie “Rocky.”

   The music struck the right chord for this humble and often humorous Latino son of Italian Immigrants who has fought to restore a church that -like Rocky Balboa or even Joe Frazier- has taken blow after blow and kept on fighting. As reported by the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the Rocky music “is the emblem of the city of Philadelphia.”

   For Richard Negrin, the City’s Managing Director and a Cuban immigrant whose Father was gunned down of  political opponents, the Argentinian-born pontiff’s visit was “one of the greatest days in the history of our great city.”

Philadelphia's 'Viva Mas

Philadelphia’s ‘Viva Mas” got the crowd dancing and were “honored” to be part of WMF.

  Deputy Clerk for Camden County, Angel Fuentes – a former altar boy who often speaks of the deep faith of his Puerto Rican-born mother – had signs made offering ‘Bienvenido Pope Francis.” Fuentes carried this message of  ‘welcome’ as he and his family arrived in the city by walking across a closed Ben Franklin Bridge.

   In the midst of hundreds of thousands gathered on a sun-splashed Franklin Parkway, Teresa Julio of Venezuela spoke of a Pope who has been a key in reviving her own Catholic faith and restoring the church itself to preeminence in the “hearts” of its 1.2 billion or more members. “Pope Francis has spoken in a way that has brought people together,” explained Julio. “When you have such unity the people of the church have power.”

 Noting that many had abandoned the church, Ms. Julio suggested that Pope Francis has “given us a good message.  It’s the best time to be a Catholic.”

The son of Mexican immigrants and a native of Corona, California, Josue Gonzalez told

Gonzalez family from California, Josue wanting his children to be inspired by Pope Francis.

Gonzalez family from California, Josue wanting his children to be inspired by Pope Francis.

El Hispano that he – like millions of other Catholics- had “left the Church for a long time.  And my wife was the same.”

  Now with a family of four sons and two daughters Mr. Gonzalez found himself drawn back to the faith of his father, something which he attributed to the influence of the two most recent popes: “ I’m the only one working, so it’s a struggle sometimes.  But the church has really helped in reconstructing our lives.”

   “Just being here in Philadelphia is a miracle itself,” he added, as he and his four sons watched several performances of Saturday’s daylong WMF Franklin Parkway festival.

  “I’ve seen Pope Benedict before and every time I see the pope I feel a grace that has helped me continue living,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “I want my children to experience that same feeling.”

  Of Pope Benedict XVI, Gonzalez praised him for providing a certain intellectual heft and clarity to church teachings. “Pope Benedict was mind-blowing.”

Sisters on the Parkway. From all over the world Nuns participated in WMF event in Philadelphia.

Sisters on the Parkway. From all over the world Nuns participated in WMF event in Philadelphia.

   “But Pope Francis is more grounded and down-to-earth,” he added. “He’s putting things into action that the other pope wrote.”

  Pedro Rodriguez, a city official and radio commentator, posted a social media observation on the sudden resignation of the visibly moved House Speaker John Boehner: “The Papal effect.”

  Another Latino leader from Lancaster, Norm Bristol Colon, lauded the unifying message of Pope Francis, saying he “made history with an inspiring and aspiring address to a Congress divided by ideologies.”  

  Among the early Family Festival performances included a medley of diverse music and dance: including St. Raymond’s Choir -a predominantly African American parish, Indonesian and Philippine dance companies, Nigerian Catholic choir, a Syro Malabar Indian Catholic Church -with ties to Syria- and Philadelphia’s Viva Mas.

   After performing three up-tempo numbers that prompted some in the Parkway audience to dancing, Viva Mas left to to boisterous applause.

  “I grew up just five minutes from here,” said Eric Serrano of Viva Mas. “And to see all of these people out here to support this cause, it’s just an honor.”

  “When you see all these people from all over the world, and they’re so calm and at peace,” added Serrano. “It makes you wonder why it can’t be like this every day.”

   “It’s surreal,” enthused Raul Figueroa. “You feel just blessed and overwhelmed to be here with all these different cultures coming together.” The other members of Viva Mas: Eddie, Eli, Raul, Mike and Eric, laughed in agreement.

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