This is a guest post by Director of Early Childhood Education, Cherie Crosby
Sometime early in 2015 I decided to volunteer at one of the largest events in the city of Philadelphia-The World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and the Papal Visit. As an educator, I have a strong desire to “pay forward” the many gifts I have received during my lifetime and volunteering is one way I can do this on a large scale. When I first heard about the WMOF, I thought I need to be a part of this historic moment in history, and when Sister Cecilia mentioned it to me; I knew my commitment had to become a reality.
I decided to volunteer during the conference and the Papal Mass. Initially, as the months got closer to the event, I joined many in criticizing the need for the excessive security measure that were going to be placed in Philadelphia and thought is this necessary. After much discussion with several friends, it became apparent that much of the security was necessary for one reason and one reason only: to prevent a terrorist attack in Philadelphia. I am hugely thankful that this did not occur.
On my first day at the convention center, Sunday, September 20 it was apparent that this was something I would never experience before. It is not very often that you get to see people from the entire world in on place. What I particularly enjoyed during the three days that I volunteered at the convention center was the army of volunteers that choose to give their time. Approximately 11,500 volunteers outside of fire, medical, police, and federal and state security organizations volunteered during the event. They were people from all races, religions, ages, and areas of the country. In addition, the attendees renewed my hope for humanity to spend more time getting to know one another. Throughout the week, people took the time to talk with one another, smiled at each other and took the time to say hello. On an average day outside the event, this does not always happen in Philadelphia.
Each day I volunteered, I noticed the security measures that were put in place: National Guard everywhere, FBI agents making frequent changes to security detail, and concrete and military barriers on all the side streets. The most striking reminder of the security was the morning of the Papal visit when no traffic was visible in the area around the convention center as well as the Parkway. It was a scene out of the “Walking Dead,” literally!
During the Papal visit, I volunteered at the 19th and Callowhill Security checkpoint and spent the morning and early afternoon directing people in and out of the area. This was not an easy task. Although a good portion of people arrived before the 11 o’clock hour and probably go into the secure areas of the parkway fairly smoothly, those that arrived after that time certainly had more difficulty. At most checkpoints due to the nature of hand checking bags, the lines moved very slowly, and people were often moving from checkpoint to checkpoint to find access. For me, I expected this due to the nature of what I saw during the week and was not surprised by this. I suspect it is quite difficult to get several agencies including volunteers to work in tandem. That said, I believe that the Papal visit was a great experience overall.
For the first time in a long time, I had seen people take the time to see one another. In addition, the event probably caused people to have many discussions around rebuilding families and put renew interest in the issue of poverty in this country.
Therefore, you are probably asking why I volunteered, particularly since I am not Catholic. I volunteered for three reasons:
I am an educator, and we should give back to our community. I feel strongly that colleges have the capacity to support events like this in big ways, and this was evident by the numerous numbers of colleges who sent teams of people to volunteer.
I appreciate the Pope’s message of helping the underdog. Often the most difficult issues in our country are often the most difficult issues for us to address in a humane way. I appreciate the fact that Pope Francis cared deeply about issues surrounding poverty and took the time to visit several prisons and schools during his visit to the US.
Lastly, my parents raised me to help others, and I have dedicated my life to doing just that.