By Tom Prior
For The Catholic Messenger
(Editor’s note: Tom Prior, a graduate assistant at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, chose the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia to propose to his girlfriend, Lindsey Sturm. Tom shares what happened!)
I learned about the World Meeting of Families in late February and knowing that I wanted to propose to my girlfriend in 2015, I decided this would be the perfect place to do it. There was no better place to make the commitment to starting a family than at a festival celebrating love and worldwide community. Lindsey and I were high school sweethearts from Bloomington, Illinois, and have been dating since December 2008.
We attended the festival with my mom (Carol), dad (John), and sister (Colleen). Our hotel was in Runnemede, New Jersey, so we rode the PATCO train into Philly on Saturday morning, Sept. 26. Worried that Lindsey would see the ring being taken out during the security checkpoint, I proposed before entering the festival. I told her, “I’ve been in love with you for over six years, and there’s no better place to start our family than at the Festival of Families.” She said “yes” and we were both ecstatic. We spent most of the day sharing the news with many elated relatives and friends expressing their love and support — another realization that we are united in the communal love of so many people, which was the embodiment of the values conveyed at the Festival of Families. I pray Lindsey and I will spend the rest of our lives reflecting God’s love to everyone we meet.
We entered the Festival of Families around noon (Saturday) and enjoyed watching the multicultural performers on the dozens of “jumbotrons,” meeting students from other universities and listening to enthusiastic chatter in numerous languages. I could feel God’s presence uniting thousands of people in his love, and I’m thankful I was able to share in it.
The five of us gathered near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the other festival participants as evening approached. Having seen Pope Benedict XVI at a papal audience in Rome in 2012 while on Father Bud Grant’s study-abroad class (with St. Ambrose University), I was familiar with the growing anticipation of watching the pope interact with the crowd.
I was overcome with joy while watching Pope Francis, who I admire for his concern for social justice and environmentalism, when he waved in my direction. His compassion and acceptance of all people is a reflection of God’s love for humanity and inspires me to treat others in that manner. Our evening ended after watching Aretha Franklin sing “Amazing Grace.” God’s grace was evident in my experience at the Festival of Families.
Lindsey, Carol, Colleen and I had tickets to the papal Mass at 4 p.m. Sunday but they weren’t needed because security didn’t check any tickets. Some security checkpoints were closed and it took a long time to get through them, so many people with tickets weren’t able to attend Mass. Luckily, the four of us were able to get in.
My favorite aspect of the Mass was feeling unified with the groups of people from all over the world. We stood next to a group from Africa and they participated in the Mass as fully as we did despite English not being their native language. I’m glad parts of the Mass were in different languages because it expressed the theme of worldwide love and community. The Mass exemplified God’s love encompassing all people. Receiving the Eucharist with people of different ethnicities enabled me to feel God’s grace.
(Tom and Lindsey haven’t set a date for their wedding yet. Both will graduate from master’s degree programs in May 2016 – Tom at St. Ambrose and Lindsey at Eastern Illinois University.)