Michael Brown pointed to The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer's Middle English chronicle of 14th century pilgrims, to help describe the 21st century pilgrimage of 1 million-plus faithful to stand in the presence of Pope Francis when he visits the United States this week.
"It's not the destination, it's the journey," said Brown, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.
The diocese is sponsoring more than 100 Idahoans on their own journey Wednesday, Sept. 23, when they head to Philadelphia where the pontiff will deliver an outdoor mass Sunday, Sept. 27 following visits to New York City and Washington, D.C.
"The estimates that we've been hearing are mentioning 1.5 million people," Brown said. "The pope's motorcade, parade and mass will be on Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Parkway. It's a vast space, but I assure you that being in his presence will have a huge spiritual benefit for all of the pilgrims."
The Idaho contingent includes single people, retirees, families and a number of children. They join Bishop Peter Christensen, who was named by Pope Francis on Nov. 4, 2014 as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Boise, which oversees the entire Gem State. Two weeks after Christensen was installed, the Vatican announced Pope Francis would travel to the U.S. in September 2015.
"Ever since then, dioceses from all over the U.S. asked, 'What can we do to have a presence?'" said Brown. "I've been working in Catholic journalism for over 30 years, and this is the first time for me to cover a papal trip. Yes, I'm covering a news event but at the same time, this is a truly special person, touching hearts across the world—not just Catholics and Christians, but non-Christians and non-believers. I don't think anyone can come away from something like this without a renewed sense of faith, a renewed optimism, hope and commitment to make the world a better place, especially for the poor, the disenfranchised, the immigrants."
Brown said the Idaho group will be welcomed by a Catholic parish in the Philadelphia township of Chadds Ford, Penn.
"It will be just like Canterbury Tales, hosting the pilgrims on their way."