Parkway flooded with families for papal festival

The ever-changing road closures and security plans weren't enough to keep hundreds of thousands from flooding the Parkway Saturday. And despite long walks across bridges and hours of standing for a glimpse of the pope, many families weren't deterred from bringing kids of all ages.

Children as young as newborn babies in cradles and strollers were amid the Saturday crowds as well kids in their early teenage years. They climbed trees and poles and crates of water bottles, and sat on parents' shoulders to catch a glimpse of Francis. And among their parents, there was an overwhelming sense that seeing the Pope would be crucial in forming their children's Catholic faith.

Sarah Meitner, 37, brought her five children, ranging in ages from 1 to 11, all the way from Kansas. She attended the Catholic Church's World Youth Day, an event for young Catholics, in 1993 in Denver, and recalled Saturday the formative effect it had on her.

"It was huge for my faith," Meitner said. "I just want my kids to have that same feeling."

Other kids, however, came by their own choice. Carmen Lima, barely a teenager, came with her family all the way from San Diego to volunteer with the World Meeting of Families. Fluent in Spanish, Lima will help translate Pope Francis' Sunday Mass along the Parkway.

"The only way to give back is to help the people who are already here," Lima said.

Sitting on the curb with friends as the crowds cleared out Saturday night, Mireya Guzman, 20, ate almonds and watched over and over the video she took of the Pope riding down the street.

She was still speechless. "You don't know if you want to laugh or cry. you don't know what to feel when he passes by," said Guzman, a college student from Chicago who came with a group from Domincan University.

She was raised Catholic, but never dreamed she'd see the pope. "But it happened tonight," she said. "Now I have something to tell my grandchildren."

Marc Rothstein is Jewish but he came to the Parkway with his Catholic wife and members of her family to see the pope.

"I'm not a very religious Jewish guy, but I have a lot of respect for the pope and people who walk the walk and he seems to be doing that," said Rothstein, 67, a chemist who lives in Horsham.

"He's reaching out to people who need help. He's a bit skeptical of capitalism. He's not just saying the principles of Christianity, he's acting them."

Rudy and Leona Gonzales, of the Tuscarora reservation in New York state, were one of several couples invited to speak onstage about family and faith.

"Our God has pulled us through many difficult times together," Leona Gonzales said. "Our faith and determination becomes stronger every day."

Antoinette Bingham, 32, of Elkins Park, Pa. volunteered at the Parkway on Saturday, helping direct people. After, she stood, wrapped in a blanket, with her wife and son.

"I'm not Catholic, but I'm spiritual and I think it's a great experience in history," she said.

Like many, a group of women from Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Toronto had been walking around the Parkway since early Saturday morning. By early evening, they were tired and cold, but their spirits were not dampened.

"I feel blessed," said Margaret Tuanquin, 22. "It's like a once in a lifetime experience."

The women have family and friends in the Philippines, where the Pope already visited. So they decided to come to Philadelphia, they said. They thought the city looked good - "there's not much commotion," Tuanquin said.

"We're here for a pilgrimage but at the same time to get to see sightseeing as well," she said.

The environment was exciting, Guzman said. In line for security, she had watched people singing and chanting.

"You just feel the peace transcend throughout the environment," she said. "Everyone transmits that."