“I just feel more alive!”
That was Karen Willoughby’s response to her week in Philadelphia attending the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit. Her 14-year-old granddaughter Kaiya traveled with her. Both live in Myrtle Beach and attend St. James Church in Conway.
Mrs. Willoughby said workshops, worship and sharing her faith with people around the world changed her outlook.
“I want my family to see and feel the excitement I got from just being in Philadelphia,” she said. “I want to give them the light I received.”
She attended sessions which taught her new aspects of God’s role in family relationships. One that stood out by Villanova professor Daniel Mark focused on the importance of forgiveness.
“In a family, mercy is important,” she said. “Relationships can’t be good if everyone stands on their own rights all the time. We have to forgive our family members just as God has forgiven us.”
She said Pope Francis’ Sept. 26 speech on Independence Mall and the papal Mass on Sept. 27 was unforgettable for two reasons: the Holy Father’s charismatic presence and the remarkable atmosphere of kindness.
By the end of the exhausting week, Willoughby had to use a wheelchair for the Mass. A young man from Poland who befriended the South Carolina pilgrims pushed her wheelchair through the crowd and helped her in and out of it for Communion.
“He was basically a stranger to me and helped me so much,” she said. “That’s the kind of spirit that was there. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There was a complete spirit of giving and love.”
Kaiya attended daily youth congress events during the world meeting.
“The best part was making new friends and the music we heard,” she said. “All of that was very uplifting.”
She roved with her fellow teens each day to different activity stations that taught moral and spiritual lessons. One of her favorites included “Gospel Drama,” which reenacted Christ’s parables. At “Fill A Bag, Fill A Heart” the teens put together small bags of supplies for homeless people in the D.C. area, filled with necessities such as socks, washcloths, tissue, and a personal, positive note written by the youth.
They also hung out in an area called “Ascension Cafe”, which featured daily speakers and musicians. Her favorite was Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry from the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., who spoke on topics such as God’s love and the significance of the cross.
Kaiya was especially struck by a giant interactive map where the youth posted their hometowns. She saw participants from every state and from overseas spots such as Australia.
She also enjoyed the performers who turned out for Pope Francis, including the group The Fray and Bobby Hill, a 14-year-old choirboy from Philadelphia who sang an impromptu version of “Pie Jesu.”
“The main message I got from the whole week is that God is love and you can’t have love in your life without God,” Kaiya said.