By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Michael Bayer, director of outreach and education at the University of Iowa’s Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, wanted to send a group to Philadelphia and offer them an experience they could “tell their kids about.” But tickets were scarce. The Philadelphia native took to social media in his quest for tickets. An anonymous parish in the Philadelphia area provided 55 tickets to the Festival of Families and the papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The students enjoyed the performances at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26 and had the opportunity to watch Pope Francis ride by in the popemobile. Unfortunately, plans to attend the papal Mass on Sept. 27 didn’t quite go as planned. The group waited six hours to get through security checkpoints, and ultimately didn’t get through before Mass ended.
The students were disappointed, but chose to make the best of the situation. A group of them, including junior Jacob Menster, prayed the rosary with about 100 other people. He used the rosary that belonged to his great-uncle, Father William Menster. “It was the rosary he used all his life before passing away. He was the first Catholic priest to bless the continent of Antarctica! … Somehow I ended up leading the rosary. I felt the presence of my great-uncle and the power of God as I was praying the rosary. It was an awe-inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime event,” Menster said.
Unbeknownst to the students at the time, one of the readings during the Mass focused on their exact situation — being “outside the camp,” but worshiping anyway.
“It was almost providential,” said Bob Heisdorffer, who is earning his second bachelor’s degree at the university and is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Keota. “We saw a tremendous outpouring and witness to faith that could not be restricted by security checkpoints. It was obvious that the Spirit was among us as well.”
Father Jeffry Belger, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish and campus minister of the Newman Center, did manage to make it in to the Mass. He and several other diocesan priests — including fellow campus minister Father Corey Close — were among 1,000 priests concelebrating Mass with Pope Francis. Fr. Belger said, “I got really lucky.”
It was a memorable experience for Fr. Belger, and EWTN caught him in action in their TV broadcast. Later, family and friends posted screenshots to his Facebook wall. Fr. Belger was equally moved by the hundreds of thousands of worshipers in the crowd, though he was anxious to get back to the Newman Center group once he found out they weren’t part of the crowd. “I figured they’d be upset.”
What he found was a group filled with joy. “The first thing they said was how awesome it was to pray and sing. … If you’re there trying to live out your faith, even disappointments can become opportunities for growth. How they handled it was remarkable.”
“This weekend was full of so many positive experiences,” said student Jaci Albrecht. “I am so blessed to have taken this pilgrimage halfway across the country to grow in faith, fellowship, and deeper appreciation for everything my faith has given me and continues to give me.”