WASHINGTON – As the sun rose behind the United States Capitol, crowds had already been filing onto the lawn for two hours.
From coast to coast and abroad, all had one goal, and that was to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis from the Capitol’s balcony.
Pope Francis addressed the crowd at 11:15 a.m. after his speech to Congress, which began at 10 a.m.
First family vacation
For some families, their first trip out of town might be a visit to a theme park or a concert. But for the Salas family, their first family vacation was faith based.
Devout Catholics Adam and Anne Salas and their four children, traveled from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., to Washington to follow the pope.
“We believe there are special graces given when you go to pilgrimages, and things like that, so that is why we did it as a family,” Adam, 44, a Los Angeles fire department captain, said.
Miguel Salas, 9, said that the plane trip was exciting and he was nervous about seeing the pope.
The family got a glimpse of the pope Wednesday in the short parade after his visit to the White House. The energy and the emotion from that and the atmosphere at the Capitol’s West Lawn was something the family said made them even more excited to hear pope’s speech.
Anne, 43, who home-schools their children, said she wants to make sure her family and other families understand the importance of the pope’s message of compassion and understanding.
“I know oftentimes that the Catholic church is seen as controversial in terms of their conservative stance on a lot of very hot political issues, but I think that the crowds speak for itself whether they just like to be a part of what’s going on or just that those issues are really close and dear to people’s hearts, and I think that the pope stands for the dignity of the person,” she said.
The family will continue to follow Pope Francis’ visit by attending mass in Philadelphia on Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
Blessings and an anniversary
Five years to the day that Cecilia Rodezno, 22, a psychology student, lost her father, she stood on the Capitol lawn waiting for her chance to fulfill a blessing.
She traveled from Honduras to Charlotte, N.C., to Washington because, in the course of two hours, everything fell together.
Earlier this week while visiting family friends, her mom, Martha Betancourt, 56, who lives in Miami, was offered tickets for the West Lawn.
She found what she said was the last hotel room available and booked two plane tickets.
“We felt like this was a blessing from my dad and God for this day to be very special,” Rodezno said.
Rodezno’s father was shot and killed in Honduras during a robbery.
Betancourt said this trip was something that would have meant a lot to her husband, a dedicated Catholic.
“I think his dream was to keep family together and his children in the same belief and faith, so it has been very special to share this moment because of the meaning of blessings and seeing peace around the world with people,” she said.
4 popes and a brother
Thomas Holtz, 65, a retired architect, and his brother, Tim Holtz, 60, a software engineer, who both live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, stood side by side as they watched the crowds inch toward the front part of the Capitol lawn.
Pope Francis would be the fourth pope that Thomas has seen – Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict.
Thomas was given tickets to attend the event by his church, which got them from Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md.
Both brothers said they hoped to see the pope, but that they didn’t have any real expectations. The saw the pope’s distant figure after the speech.
Argentina in America
The pope talked about immigration, a subject that is familiar for Franco Abdala, 17.
At age 3 his family moved to Potomac, Md., from Cordoba, Argentina. He attended the speech with his father, Manuel Abdala, 52, an economist.
“I talk a lot to my friends about immigration and what they think about it and I think a problem about America is the way we call illegal immigrants, we call them illegal and we treat them as inferior people but in reality, like the pope said, we are all human beings. … I mean these are people, too, and the way people like Trump will call them as illegal and treat them as rapists and murders is not fair,” Franco said.
It was Franco’s first experience seeing a pope, but for Abdals it was his third time. He saw Pope Benedict during his 2008 visit and Pope John Paul II in Cordoba.
Abdala said this papal visit holds a special meaning because he was seeing Pope Francis with his son.
It’s amazing because I told my son, we’re not going to have an opportunity like this, we have to grab it and take it,” he said.
The young and the religious
A 2013 graduate of Catholic University of America, seminarian Brett Garland, 25, stood with fellow seminarian Justin Ward, 30.
Both are from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.
Garland said that, although there is a decrease in the number of priests and nuns, he has seen young people dedicate their lives to the church.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of young people, both entering religious life as seminarians or as brothers and sisters in religious orders, and a lot of young families that are beginning and they want to raise their children in the Catholic faith,” he said. “For those who were not raised in the faith originally, they noticing they are missing something and that has helped them come back to the church.”
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