A bit of a Miracle
From reporter William Wan:
"When you go on a pilgrimage, you don't know what could happen," said Benjamin Merino, 50. "Anything's possible."
With that in mind, he and 150 other mostly Hispanic parishioners from Houston, Tex., arrived along the pope's motorcade route on Pennsylvania Avenue with an entire arsenal of spiritual tools: guitars, drums, tambourines, prayer books, bibles, video cameras and a 7-foot tall cross.
If they could just catch a glimpse, a wave, a gesture of blessing, even so much as a glance their way, their long trip from Texas would have been worth it.
Most arrived on a red-eye flight early this morning and grabbed just a couple hours of sleep in the gymnasium of a D.C. catholic school before waking up early this morning out to stake out a spot along the route.
They settled on a spot in front of the World Bank near the corner of 18th St. and Pennsyvalnia Avenue, and soon began belting out Spanish hymns and shouting chants of praises and prayers through a bullhorn.
They weren't sure what exactly they hoped to find along the pope's motorcade. "Only God knows what will happen," Merino said.
But already, he and his wife had experienced a miracle of sorts early this morning, he said, slyly reaching into his leather jacket to pull out two newly acquired tickets for tomorrow's stadium mass.
Tickets were long gone weeks ago. Most churches had to enter a lottery just to win a handful to split between their parishioners. But early that morning while waiting for the pope along the barricades of Pennsylvania Avenue, Merino had run into a church mentor, who had somehow fanagled two extra seats.
"Why did we receive this? It's a blessing from God," Merino said.
"It's because you're a sinner," joked a friend beside him, Oscar Zavala, who unfortunately would be straining to hear tomorrow's mass from outside the stadium. "The ones who need are the ones who receive."
"Who? The seniors?" Merino answered.
For an hour and a half they joked and sang and chanted. As noon approached the crowd swelled as workers from the World Bank streamed out to watch. Janitors in their work uniforms and accountants in dark business suits all jostled along the street and on park benches for a better view.
"It's a once in a lifetime thing to see the pope," said Nancy Lim, a budget officer for the World Bank. As noon approached, Lim moved through the crowd, debating the merits of different positions.
"To see the pope is to feel closer to him and the church," she said, explaining her anxiousness to get the best view possible.
Then suddenly the moment came upon them.
The boisterous Hispanic singers from Houston picked up the beat and raised their voices as the motorcade approached. Scattered cheers rose up from the crowd.
But as the actual popemobile came into sight and began to pass by, for a split-second, a hush fell over many in the crowd, as though shocked to finally encounter what they had been come so far and waited all morning to see. Even the boisterous Houston singers paused mid-song to take snapshots.
Then in the space of a few seconds it was over, and the motorcade had passed.
Merino turned to his wife to see what she had captured on camera.
"I don't know what happened," she said, looking at a blank screen. Jostled by the crowd, trying to see past the police, she had cracked under the pressure of the moment.
"I couldn't get the camera to work," she told her husband.
Merino reflecting on this for a moment then simply repeated his mantra: "You just never know what will happen on a pilgrimage. You just have to have an open mind and heart."
Sometimes, he said, you may encounter frustration, and sometimes you find grace. And with their two new tickets to the stadium, there would plenty more opportunities for pictures. "We have faith," he said. "God will provide."
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Posted by: Mr.S.Bhattasali | April 17, 2008 12:03 AM