Pilgrims for Pope Francis

Well before the sun came up Tuesday morning, tired eyes could not compete with anticipation.

“It’s here and I’m feeling just so excited and so blessed and so honored and humbled,” Shirley Honey-Allen of Kaukauna said.

“Unbelievable,” Amy Kawula said. “I slept for 3 hours and sat up last night, just wanting to make sure I had everything in place, and I’m so excited for the people that are coming with us.”

One hundred and eleven faithful from 16 counties within the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay are making the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. They’ll join an expected one million believers from around the country this weekend at the World Meeting of Families, which Pope Francis will attend.

Some have waited close to a year for this journey.

“The couple we’re with came over to visit us for Christmas last year and they mentioned this bus trip and here we are,” Jeff Hager from Saxeville said.

For the Hagers, this pilgrimage has special meaning.

Ellen Hager explains, “”We’re actually celebrating our 41st anniversary, so this is our gift and we’re going to be having mass on that day with the Pope, so we’re real excited about that.”

Before the buses depart, Bishop David Ricken offers a prayer and a blessing for a safe and spiritual experience.

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. God bless everybody,” the bishop prayed.

“They’re so excited. They’re really looking forward to being together to journey to Philadelphia, and also all the time of prayer, and hopefully they’ll get a good glimpse of the Pope somewhere along the line, but I know they’re praying for their families and they’re praying for our area, for all the children and young people, the families. Really, focus on the family during this time is really needed and a very important time in our church’s history,” Bishop Ricken said.

Over the next week these pilgrims will travel well over 1,000 miles and spend countless hours together, united by their faith and expecting to be spiritually stronger when they return home.

“I think it’s going to be, fire them up, and come home and try to live a better life helping people,” Deacon Jerome Thetreau from Marinette said.

“We all leave as strangers, we come back as family,” said Kawula, the pilgrimage organizer, “and family united in this gift to be in the presence of Pope Francis.”

Action 2 News will be on the East Coast as the pope finishes his historic visit to the U.S. Reporter Jeff Alexander and photojournalist Bill Kumbalek are traveling with the pilgrims from the Green Bay diocese as they head to Philadelphia. They’ll have live reports beginning this Friday.

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