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Tampa Bay Catholics to make pilgrimages to see Pope Francis

Angelica “Vivi” Iglesias, left, Roberto W. Iglesias, Mary Joyce Daniels and Gabriela A. Iglesias, all of St. Petersburg, are going to Philadelphia this week for a chance to see Pope Francis.
Angelica “Vivi” Iglesias, left, Roberto W. Iglesias, Mary Joyce Daniels and Gabriela A. Iglesias, all of St. Petersburg, are going to Philadelphia this week for a chance to see Pope Francis.
Published Sep. 22, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — When Pope Francis was elected two years ago, the first thing Angelica "Vivi" Iglesias did was call her family in Argentina.

"They were all excited," she said. "They said, 'We know him. We love him.'"

It happens that the leader of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics was born in a nearby Buenos Aires neighborhood and led retreats at her brother's Jesuit school.

"A Latin American pope is amazing for us," said Iglesias, 55, who is counting the days until she can catch a glimpse of the pontiff in Philadelphia, the final of three U.S. cities he will visit.

"I am excited, even though I'm going to be in a sea of people," she said.

Iglesias, a parishioner at Blessed Trinity in St. Petersburg, will be joined by her husband, Roberto, 59; their daughter, Gabriela; and her friend, Mary Daniels, both 22.

Many others also will make the pilgrimage from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which spans Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties and has more than 425,000 Catholics.

Travel arrangements to the City of Brotherly Love might have been the simplest step in planning their journey. Getting "first-come, first-served" tickets for a closer view of the popular pope, in some cases, required a full deployment of friends and family to as many computers as possible.

Christine Dandaraw, 65, and her husband, Daniel, 68, who will stay at her brother's suburban Philadelphia home, had to enter a lottery to buy rail tickets into the city. The online lottery was set up after demand caused a website to crash.

"We tried for four hours and then it crashed," said Dandaraw, whose brother is a deacon with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "And when the lottery opened, we were up at midnight to try to get tickets, because it opened at 12:01."

The Dandaraws, parishioners at St. Timothy's in Lutz, also got tickets for two of the pope's three public events, including a Mass on Sunday.

Ana Acevedo, 42, of Incarnation Catholic Church in Tampa, and three members of the young adult group she leads, haven't been as fortunate. Their pilgrimage plans kept going awry, but they've managed to rent a car and book a hotel room about 10 miles outside Philadelphia.

"We're driving through the night," said Acevedo, a surgical technician at Tampa General Hospital.

The intrepid pilgrims calculate the cost of their trip — without budgeting for food — will run about $400 each.

Our main purpose," said Acevedo, "is to be with the pope where he is going to do the Mass and that's going to be a special moment."

More than 1.5 million people are expected for Sunday's Mass.

Iglesias, associate director of Hispanic ministry for the diocese, said while she's excited to see the pope for personal reasons, she is traveling to Philadelphia in a professional capacity. She is one of 45 representatives from the church's Southeast region who will attend the World Meeting of Families that begins a few days before the pope's visit.

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She also has been invited to a special meeting organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to reflect on "the opportunities and challenges faced by Spanish-speaking families across the continent."

"It's a very important time in our ministry and our church," Iglesias said.

The pope will make a much-anticipated speech about immigration and religious freedom during his Philadelphia stop. He also is expected to address the closing festival of the World Meeting of Families.

It will be a family pilgrimage for Cathleen Curry, 55, and her daughter Sofia, 17, a student at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. They will fly to Philadelphia with Curry's mother, Catherine, 83; sister, Angela Cyr, 50; and her two daughters, Rose, 13, and Emily, 10.

"We are an extraordinarily close family and faith is something that we all have in common," said Curry, a parishioner at St. Laurence in Tampa.

"It is very rare that the pope comes to the United States. We felt that it was quite an opportunity."

They managed to get tickets for all the public events.

"I understand it is going to be very crowded," said Catherine Curry, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. "Even if I get to see the top of his head, I'm so thrilled about going."

However, it wouldn't be the first time she has seen a pope. The native New Yorker recalled seeing Pope Paul VI during his whirlwind visit to that city in October 1965. He was the first pope to visit the United States.

"We went on the Van Wyck Expressway and just saw him go by in a car," she said. "That was awesome."

Then there was John Paul II. She saw him in Rome — twice.

That doesn't mean she isn't elated about seeing Pope Francis.

"He's such a wonderful pope. He's very inspiring," she said. "It's like a pilgrimage."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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