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September 27, 2015

For those who saw Pope Francis, it was a moment to cherish

Pope in Philly Papal Mass
Pope Francis in Popemobile Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Pope Francis waves from the Popemobile on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway moments before the papal Mass, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.

It was a moment thousands long for -- a chance to glimpse Pope Francis. 

As the pontiff was driven through Center City in the Popemobile Sunday to officiate his final Mass in his whirlwind tour of the United States, the thousands of people lining the Ben Franklin Parkway pressed against the metal barriers for a glimpse, a smile, a wave or a blessing from the Vicar of Christ.

For some parents, it meant seeing their infant children plucked from their hands and passed up to the pope for a kiss that would become family legend.  

For Mary Ann McMullan, 60, of Downingtown, the wait was "absolutely" worth it.

"It was a three-and-a-half-hour wait in line and it was worth every second," she said. "I just wish my grandchildren were here so I could pass them up (to the pope)."

Don Otto, of St. Teresa of Avila parish in Norristown, was in the front row of the crowd as Pope Francis made his way up the Parkway toward the altar.

"It was great," Otto said. "How else can you really define it? It's a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Otto saw Pope Francis speak Saturday at Independence Hall but said he was not in a prime viewing spot. He didn't have that problem Sunday.

"We were right here at the fence," Otto said. "It's amazing, the push. Everybody wants to see him."

The crowd began tightly lining the Parkway barriers more than an hour before Pope Francis arrived. People grew more and more excited as he stopped several times along the route to kiss babies held outstretched by pilgrims.

Pope Francis also stopped outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where hundreds of prayer requests hung on strips of white paper.

"It's really exciting, the fact that he came and chose us," said Brandon Edwards, of St. Athanasius parish in Philadelphia. "To bring so many different people of different nationalities together at one event is awesome."

Edwards also was on the Parkway Saturday night, when Pope Francis zipped around in the Popemobile to greet the pilgrims gathered for the Festival of Families. 

On Sunday, his final day in the United States, Francis took his time.

"I was here last night, but it was very different," Edwards said. "I think he drove by us but he went so fast. We didn't see much. Today, he went slower. I think my mother is overwhelmed with emotion."

Leah Fox, of St. Cyril of Jerusalem parish in Bucks County, called the parade "awesome."

"It was intense," Fox said. "Being (in the) front row and everybody crowding behind us - it was crazy."

But not everyone who saw Pope Francis was there simply for the joyous occasion.

Miguel Ortiz, of Philadelphia, said he was happy to welcome Pope Francis, but he remains frustrated by Archbishop Chaput's handling of myriad parish mergers.

Ortiz attended La Milagrosa Chapel, considered the mother church of Latino Catholics in Philadelphia. But the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced in 2012 that the Congregation of the Mission was selling the building. Its parishioners were invited to attend the Basilica.

Holding a banner reflecting his frustration, Ortiz said the struggle of his church would be recognized by Pope Francis.

"We are a family without a house because we don't have a parish," Ortiz said. "That's my feeling. That's why we are here."