Embedded in the Children’s Crusade

Riding shotgun in the Baltimore Popemobile as it arrived at the Mirenda Center on the campus of Neumann University Thursday night, I leaned out the window, put my finger to my lips and made a cartoon sound to waiting college officials and media who didn’t know me from Adam.
On cue, Joe Landry, a 15-year-old from St. John Parish in Westminster, deadpanned, “Remember, we are representing Archbishop William E. Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.” I have been barking that phrase at Landry and a dozen other teens this week. It was a marvelous moment, and I laughed the hardest at getting put in my place by Joe, who’s wearing the Orioles cap in the group photo.
Friends and family know that my impatience and need for solitude heighten around children. Living in Hamilton a couple of decades ago, when Gino Monaldi – Dennis the Menace to my Mr. Wilson – was out front playing with my garden hose, I chased him right into his living room, where his mother was sitting at the table and questioning my sanity. At the funeral of Norm Stumpf Sr. at St. Rose of Lima some years back, I nodded in recognition during the recollections, when a friend said, “He loved babies – and hated teenagers.” 
A week before I began this job in May 2008, Mary and I had Tybee Beach in Georgia to ourselves when a man walked up and began lining up cones to my left as four busses of school kids piled out. My grin turned to a grimace.
Now God has gifted me with the group pictured, in order to help me continue to learn patience. Their spirit is incredible, as they sing and talk along the way. Individually, I’ve had some meaningful conversations with the kids. In a group, it’s like being inside a pinball machine, akin to what a priest with South Philly roots described to me the other day as the “Ministry of Interruption.”
They are a non-stop bundle of energy, and after daily Mass and a walk of 12 or 14 miles, Father Jack and their parents and chaperones will run off even more energy playing soccer or basketball before they kneel in whatever church or chapel where we are staying for evening prayer. They have walked through the city, ran prayer cards to auto mechanics, and gotten the attention of curious horses in the Brandywine Valley who don’t see many people.
The teens and pre-teens are veterans of Father Jack Lombardi’s pilgrimages, but they know that this one is different by the media hovering around them. That was Scott Sainz on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt Friday, in what I hope was just a tease for a bit it will run Sunday night. One minute the kids are stopping to pray, the next they are petting a horse, then they are sitting down to answer questions from a journalist about this most amazing faith journey.
And then they are right back, being kids again, which is what they are supposed to do. Even their parents get in the act. That’s Pat Hamilton, 63 years young, doing the photo-bombing.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.