PHILADELPHIA — Students and teachers with Peninsula Catholic High School in Newport News celebrated Sunday Mass in Philadelphia with Pope Francis and roughly hundreds of thousands of their closest friends.
The experience of attending a papal Mass was a special one for Peninsula Catholic music teacher Jim Edwards, who became a Catholic on Easter 2014.
He wasn't even going on the trip initially, but he stepped in after another teacher wasn't able to make it on the trip.
"Being able to be part of something so big all over the world, it's just the tip of the iceberg for what's to come," he said, of the pope's future.
Under an overcast sky, the pontiff celebrated a multilingual Mass at Eakins Oval, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the crowds gathered along Benjamin Franklin Parkway to be a part of the service.
Being able to attend Mass celebrated by Pope Francis was something junior Michael Fremaux looked forward to.
"Being a teenager is a spiritual journey," he said.
In a homily delivered in Spanish, Pope Francis said that holiness is manifested through small gestures and kindnesses.
"Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home," he said. "Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches."
Those kindnesses done for loved ones should also be extended more broadly to others, he said.
Those words resonated with theology teacher Eva Hinojosa.
"I feel with the presence of Pope Francis, the world is listening to the message to take care of one another," she said. "Now they have to act."
Before Mass, the students got a second glimpse of Pope Francis in a parade.
For many of the students, seeing the pope even once was an incredible opportunity, despite lacking perfect viewing conditions.
"Seeing the pope for the 15 seconds he was walking by, it was breathtaking," said sophomore Ashley Murray said.
"I don't mind that I didn't get a good view," said sophomore Rachel Joaquin. "It was awesome."
For senior Andi Moskal, bonding with her classmates, something that busy schedules can get in the way of, was the highlight of the trip.
"This time, it's a bunch of different classes getting to spend time together," she said.
Along with getting to see the pope in person, Hinojosa enjoyed hearing about the students' experiences of the trip.
"I'm proud to be Catholic," she said. "I'm proud to be here with the students."
Castillo can be reached by phone at 757-247-4635.