While I was in the throng of “unticketed” Pope Francis fans in Philly, I was so proud to be a Catholic. One of the reasons why is something that has not gotten much press in secular or religious media: spiritual warfare in downtown Philly over the weekend. With the state of American culture as it is, I always thought the Pope’s visit to Ben Franklin’s hometown could be a bit of a lightning rod. One main reason I went to Philly was to be prayer support for the Pope. But rather than finding a confrontation with homosexuals in the city of brotherly love over the nature of the family, the battle was older.
Heavily armed guards at the New Jersey train station kept us physically safe, but spiritual guerilla troops gently confronted each pilgrim headed to Philly with a flier reminding us that the Bible is the “true” authority on faith and morals.
Outside the convention Center where the World Meeting of Families was wrapping up, we were then ambushed by dozens of devoted anti-Catholics handing out slick yellow packaged “free” DVDs linking this Pope with end-times prophecies. These spiritual IEDs were set to detonate in our living rooms once we got home.
As we got closer to the event area, Anti-Catholic activists with arguments dating back to colonial times made the security checkpoints our Calvary/Yorktown. Wherever the lines were dense, protestors screamed into megaphones that Catholics were going to hell and that the Pope was a prince of lies. They held big signs, often on tall posts, slamming core beliefs of the Catholic faith. “Call NO man father!” There is no Purgatory” and the like. Their words beat on us like fists. Their anger had a hellish fury.As we waited at a Security checkpoint on Saturday, I tried to pull my rosary out of my bag and it felt like something in the bag was tugging against me. Weird. I pulled a little more and the top beads and crucifix broke off. Beads broken but not backing down, I knelt down in the street and started to pray rosary prayers, calling out to Blessed Mother Mary, thinking, “She’s got more power than this guy. She is Queen of the Universe.” She could defend everyone from these attacks and to make the loud mouths go away. Within less than 3 minutes, the guy near us turned his volume down and walked off.
Then on Sunday, when crowds were trapped in swollen lines extending for blocks, the same folks heaped apologetics abuse on the checkpoint prisoners all the more. Some teens with a group from the Neo Catechumenal Way tried to engage some of their tormentors in friendly debate but were pounded with high velocity vitriol all the more. Other victims remained joyful, prayerful and sang songs.
The response from the pilgrims is what made this a magnificent battle to witness among soldiers I was proud to fight with. The stark contrast between the patient, placid and jovial demeanor of the “Papists” and the harsh, desperate anger of the “activists” gave a vivid image of Jesus’ presence in and through us, “I gave my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” Catholic counter measures included: spontaneous “Alleluias” accompanied by tambourines, bagpipe playing to drown out the diatribe, and surrounding the opponent with smiling faces. It’s like we knew they only hated what they did not understand. Mercy was in the atmosphere. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It was so much of everything Pope Francis encourages our faith to be.
My travel companions and I initially wondered why Catholic apologetics groups were not out offering counter-attacks to the barrage of misinformation. Later, I thought about how people all across America had all been offering “pr-air support” for our boots on the ground. We had the weapons we needed: joyful spirits filled with Faith, Hope and Charity. It’s what the Pope teaches and demonstrates to us all the time. Calling upon our Holy Mother when the going got tough gave us critical power and stamina too. As it turned out, we didn’t need “Catholic Answers”. Our loving, happy witness was the Catholic Answer.
Before I left my home in STL to go to see Pope Francis, I felt a nudge from God to invite people everywhere to join in a crazy idea. A day of prayer on the Feast of the Rosary in a surprising place. Twitter and Social Media. It’s called: #TweetingMOM. The spirit of love and joy energized by reliance on the blessed Mother that fought for our faith in a small way against grouchy activists in Philly applies in the larger battles too. Let’s pray as a “cloud of witnesses” in the battle for the future of our families, our nation and our world. Holy Mother Mary is our Warrior Queen with all the grace and power of God at her disposal, if we only ask her. And if thousands of us ask her in the public social media spaces, what a witness that will be.
On the day that commemorates the victory of the rosary in the battle of Lepanto, in which God saved Christianity from possible annihilation, perhaps we can use a little blue bird to bring our blessed mother’s blue mantle virtually across America in hundreds and thousands of blue highlighted hashtags…imploring her protection on the electronic battlefield where the enemy of our souls now has done so much damage once again. Let’s channel our excitement from our time with Pope Francis to power up and prepare spiritually for The Year of Mercy.
Will you pray with me? And invite your friends and “followers” to pray with us too?
Click on the #TweetingMOM link to find out more.