Waiting for a miracle

Hilda Ponce De Leon pulled the blue breathing tubes from her nose as she sat in a wheel cheer, an oxygen machine to her side, beneath the street lights near the Free Public Library.

"I want a miracle," Ponce De Leon, 74, of Juarez, Mexico, who has pulmonary fibrosis, said quietly. "Breathing without having to use oxygen. I know it's difficult, but I want a miracle."

 She didn't want money, or anythin else, she said. Just a to breathe normally once more.

 Her son, Sergio, 40, said the two and their friend - all lifelong Catholics - decided to come to Philadelphia only four days ago. He said his mom developed the illness from relatives' secondhand smoke.

 "We want to bring her closer to him, but it's going to be impossible," the son, a supplier auditor for Johnson & Johnson, said. "That was the intent in bringing her."

 He said his mothers's oxygen machine - and a backup battery - can only last several hours. They'd try again, Sunday, for the public mass and hoped to secure a spot closer to the action.

 "It's all in God's hands," he said.


Megan McHugh, 38, of Mount Airy was not entirely enthusiastic about coming to the Festival of Families and the packed parade route to see the pope.

"I was concerned that the crowds were going to be a lot bigger," she said. "I had anxiety built up about it for the last week." Yet she came, she said, for her mother, Fran Duffy, 67, of Chestnut Hill. "She wants to be his first miracle," McHugh said for her mother, who stood with her daughter at 18th and Market Streets just after the pope had passed by twice Saturday evening.

Duffy can't speak. Two strokes have left her that way and with complete paralysis on her right side. She used sign language to explain how the close-up sight of His Holiness left her: "He fills me with hope," her daughter translated.

Duffy will be back on the Parkway Sunday. She has tickets to the Mass.