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Papa-palooza lets St. Louisans celebrate pope's upcoming U.S. visit

Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square in May 2013

Approximately 800 St. Louis Catholics on Saturday sang, played, prayed and had their photo taken with a life-size flat poster of a smiling Pope Francis at Papa-palooza on the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary grounds in Shrewsbury. The archdiocesan-wide, church picnic was aimed to give St. Louisans a family celebration in advance of the international Vatican's World Meeting of Families, which begins Tuesday in Philadelphia. 

"Our Papa-palooza is for people who might have wanted to go to Philadelphia but could not,” said Julia A. Bostick, executive director of the archdiocese's Office of Laity and Family Life. She is one of 17 St. Louisans attending the Philadelphia meeting.

Her office staff and volunteers organized Saturday's event, with Kenrick seminarians overseeing the many games. The Vatican family meeting’s official poster got a prominent place in the main tent so all could read its motto, “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” 

Many families signed their names on a St. Louis Papa-palooza poster, which one of the St. Louisans going to Philadelphia will hold up at the Mass outside the museum. So, the Saturday participants will be there in spirit, Jim Russell, the deacon leading the trip said.

“Papa-palooza is also a rally for Francis’ visit, his first to the United States. We want families to pay attention to it,” Bostick said.

Tony and Karla Kramer of Des Peres talked for months about traveling to Philadelphia but didn’t act fast enough.

“We wanted to go, talked about it a year ago but when finally we went to register it was too late,” Karla Kramer said as her husband agreed. “Hotels were full, too.”  

Tony and Karla Kramer
Credit Patricia Rice
Karla and Tony Kramer

Beginning Tuesday when the pope arrives in Washington, D.C., the Kramers expect to listen, watch or read as much about the papal visit to the U.S. as they can. They say they have been fascinated with Francis since his election March 13, 2013.

“Pope Francis is a real man for our time," she said. The world needs to hear that they are loved. Francis often says that. I am hoping he will redirect people’s lives to the eternal reality.”

John-Paul, 14, and Caeli, 16, Werner of Farmington know many teens travelling to see the pope. They are classmates who live in Canada and in the Midwest and share the Werners’ online home school courses, they said.  

“They are excited,” Caeli said. “We wanted to go but we always go to Washington in January for the Right to Life March, and two trips in a year would be too much.”

This week they hope their dad will lift his ban against going on the internet so they can watch the papal events on the Vatican Radio website. Their Farmington TV reception is poor.

There were no lectures Saturday as there will be at the Philadelphia Convention Center meeting. The Shrewsbury event was designed for family fun -- plus Mass.

Perfect weather made the games more fun.
Credit Patricia Rice
Perfect weather made the games more fun.

"Papa-palooza is a place for parents and children to be together — a fabulous day of games, music and Mass, to have fun together centered on faith as part of everyday life. It is about putting faith in our everyday life, not just on Sunday,” Bostick, the organizer, said. Many American families are so busy shuttling children to sports, classes and appointments that they don’t play and may not pray together, Bostick said 

"Even when a family goes out to be together at a restaurant for a family dinner children or parents might be on their phones checking messages,"

Families were lively and expressive at Papa-palooza. The Kramers’ daughters Elayna, 8, and Elizabeth, 12 won at a memory game in which they matched up images of Moses, the 10 Commandments stone tablets; St. Francis, St. Clare; Noah’s Ark and a Dove with an olive branch only after they flipped the picture face down then recalled where the sheets has been placed. Later, Elayna yelped and jumped 18 inches off the ground when” her” battery-operated, fluffy pink pig won the pig race at the Prodigal Son’s Pig Pen game. Most of the score of games had a religious theme and nearly all the prizes did, too.

Refugees, poverty, capital punishment

Though most families participating were strangers to each other there was a "Any Friend of Francis is my Friend" sort of warmth. Cathy Philips, 26, of Holy Infant Parish young adult group in Ballwin was one of several who talked about how Francis brought the joy of the Gospel message to the world while serving as conscience to the world about refugees, poverty, capital punishment.

“Francis’ spirit is contagious, refreshing and he encourages us to go back to what we are called to do as a church,” Philips said.

Many talked about how he lives the way the Gospel demands. Grace Schlueter, 14, of O’Fallon, Mo., said, “I love that he lives a simple life and wants to help the poor.”

Several people expect the pope to talk about the Old and New Testament mandate to welcome refugees. They are looking for words about helping Middle Eastern refugees in his talks before the U.N., the  joint session of Congress and maybe at his speech Philadelphia Independence Hall. A few monitoring his Saturday activity on their phones were moved that just before departing for Cuba, the pope welcomed a Syrian refugee family to the Vatican. Their resettlement is being sponsored by the tiny Santa Anna Parish just inside the Vatican. One joyful woman reported that he had landed in Cuba about the time Papa-palooza started.

“Francis is so approachable, he tries to be where the everyday persons are,” Angela Anderson, a member of Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves said as her husband Jerry and their three sons Mario, 10, Erik, 9, and Noah, 4, stood in line at the refreshment stand. “I hope Francis will help us all understand how merciful God is.”

All three Anderson sons said they “really like” Pope Francis. Mario likes that the pope speaks Spanish. The three Anderson boys understand Spanish, having been adopted from Central America, Mario can translate the pope’s words for his monolingual Webster pals.

Catherine Wagner of Queen of All Saints Parish in Oakville is going to try to watch every part of the papal visit no matter what the hour. She hopes he quotes his grandmother who he credits with bringing him to a deeper personal relationship with Jesus. She loves that the pope grandmother warned him against living just to make money and used to tell the teenage future pope that a "shroud does not have pockets."

Wagner’s own grandmother was important in her faith life. She hopes she is helpful to her grandchildren, eight of whom came with her to Papa-palooza.

“This event has been just wonderful, the Mass was beautiful, everyone singing,” Wagner said.

Theme of mercy

In his homily at the evening outdoor Mass, Bishop Ed Rice focused the Papa-palooza congregation on what they might look for in the pope’s many talks this week. He expects the pope to stress his constant theme of mercy.

“The pope has said that the greatest act of mercy is to forgive another person, a message we all need to hear,” Rice said.

Love has to be at the root of family life, Rice said. Parents need to tell their children and their spouses “I love you.” They should teach children to say it often and continue to encourage them to say it when they become “moody, snarly teenagers.” From the pulpit, Rice jokingly asked for hands of moody snarly teens. A couple arms flew up. Families need to realize that they are not perfect and learn to say, “I am sorry,” and to grant others forgiveness.

“Whatever the pope says it will be challenging and also be lovingly,” Rice said.

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Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.