It was 3:28 p.m. when Linda Johnston, an Episcopalian, leaned over a barricade and held out four rosaries as the pope's motorcade rounded Logan Circle.
"I held them like this. He went like this," she said, making the sign of the cross. "And then he smiled at me and mouthed 'Thank you.' "
She was still overcome with emotion 45 minutes later. "Oh my God, it means how much he loves the people that he would do this with someone as lowly as me. He's in my heart," said Johnston, 69, retired director of volunteer services at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford, Del.
Raised largely Episcopalian, she also feels connected to the Catholic Church, where most of her family worships. Not that it matters. "I live the Lord and I feel like the Lord is inside me," she said.
Would it have made a difference to the pope? "I don't know. Do you think? But that's what they've been saying, that this pope loves everyone."
Johnston and her son Bruce, 51, a regional director of operations for Subway, had risen at 3 a.m., somewhat on the spur of the moment. With no tickets for the papal events or transportation, they drove to Philadelphia International Airport and then got a taxi into town. The lines were thin at 7 a.m.; it would be 8-1/2 hours before they glimpsed the pope -- and he them.
Eager to share the warmth, Johnston pulled three rosaries from a bag and rummaged for the fourth. The shiny metal one is what she prays with daily. The heavy one from Lourdes, France, about 65 years old with a miniature vial of dried up holy water, will go to her son. The pink plastic one, perhaps to her family's church. The fourth ... was nowhere to be found, apparently dropped outside the security checkpoint at 19th and Callowhill Streets.
Far from upset, Johnston was excited by the prospect that the rosary, white and silver, from Italy, would have a new owner.
"I just want the person who finds it to know it was blessed by the pope," she said. "Because I would have given it away anyway. Maybe this is God's way of giving it to someone who needs the blessing."
Still feeling around her bag, ever the jokester, Johnston pulled out a bunch of change. "Do you think these were blessed too?" she asked, then withdrew the question: "I'm pushing the envelope."