WASHINGTON – Catholic Charities spent all night getting ready. A group of Secret Service agents and 50 employees set up for a lunch, beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. They took shifts all through the night to keep the pace of their work while some slept. All in excitement for the pope’s arrival the next day.
Catholic Charities invited people involved in 19 programs to two related events. About 200 people attended a brief prayer service at St. Patrick’s and 300 attended the lunch.
People crowded a three-block radius around the church and Catholic Charities, which are in a busy downtown neighborhood across the street from the central library and down the block from the Verizon Center, home to professional sports and big-named concerts. Streets were blocked, and participants had to enter through security.
Waiting at the entrance at Eighth and G streets was Tina Thompson, 53, along with a group of women staying the Harriet Tubman Emergency Women’s Shelter. Despite waiting for only 45 minutes, Thompson said she was prepared to wait for hours, and would have done so gladly.
“It’s like, you know, when you’re a kid and you know your birthday is coming up, and it is so overwhelming,” Thompson said. “It is a feeling that I can’t even express. It is a great feeling having right now.”
Thompson is living at the women’s shelter and receiving disability payments.
Others, who weren’t participating in the events, waited outside the fences, hoping to see the pope.
M.J. Park, 67, of Mount Rainier, Md.,waited patiently outside the chain-link fence for the pope to arrive. She volunteers with Little Friends for Peace, which teaches problem-solving skills to stop violence.
“I was running into so much violence,” Park said. “Not just the killing and global violence, but also the way children were treating each other, and I just felt that we want kids to be safe. We teach them anti-bullying, but I felt we need to teach them how to be peaceful and how to solve a problem without violence.”
While some people were ecstatic about the chance to see the pope, others were there to protest.
Four members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group known for hate speech toward the LGBTQ community, Jews and politicians, picketed the event.
They were singing their own parody pop songs and holding signs that read “PERVERT POPE” and “PEDOPHILE RAPE ENABLERS.”
“The whole world is bowing down to this false prophet, and what he is doing is taking this Catholic church that is a human institution that is full of avarice and greed and bloody violence,” Margie Phelps, a church leader, said. “He is taking them to a new level of enabling sin, and someone’s got to say that’s not a good idea. … I can’t imagine why anyone would bow down to a man who has got the blood of raped children on his hands.”
The pope’s now-famous Fiat drove down F Street, arriving at St. Patrick’s at about 12:30 p.m. He spent a few minutes inside the church then greeted people eating lunch in a large tent pitched on G Street. He was there for about 20 minutes.
“I didn’t think he was going to show up,” said Philip Fisher, who ate lunch in the tent and stays at the New York Avenue Shelter.
Fisher, 84, has lived in Washington his whole life. He is retired and has been living in the shelter for eight years. He says he wants to get out.
He said he was grateful for the chance to see the pope, but felt like he was just like any other person. “I didn’t get to see much because everybody got up and start moving to him and then he exited.”
After Thompson finished her lunch, she was still in awe.
“Seeing him – it was so inspirational. It gave me a lot of hope that today is going to get better. It is an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” she said.
Reach reporter Maren Machles at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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