Emily Rzepka of Fort Mill is hoping she can keep it together while playing the viola in the orchestra in a papal Mass next week in the nation’s capital.
The 19-year-old South Carolina native and The Catholic University student anticipates being overcome with emotion during the Mass, where she will be in the presence of Pope Francis, who will be making a historic visit to the United States next week.
“I know I’m going to cry,” she said. “So I’m just worried, am I going to be able to play, because I’m going to be seeing the pope.”
An estimated crowd of 25,000 will attend the Mass, which will take place on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Rzepka said she’s thrilled at the opportunity as a Catholic and a musician at the chance to be playing.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity to have the father of the church, which is what I based my whole life of my faith (on), to be here,” she said. “I think in a way any musician’s dream.”
Rzepeka is among many South Carolinians who will be in, or trying to be in, the presence of the pope during his first, three-city trip to U.S. soil that begins Tuesday.
Next week, dozens of Lowcountry Catholics will be boarding buses for a nearly 14-hour journey in hopes of at least catching a glimpse of Pope Francis, who will be visiting Philadelphia on Sept. 26-27 for the World Meeting of Families. The papal visit is expected to draw a crowd of nearly a million people.
Among those expected in the throngs is Michael Martocchio of West Ashley, who is a member of Blessed Sacrament Church and works for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. He plans on taking the trip with his wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 2.
“I don’t know how well they will remember it, but I just would hope they really do get a sense of the excitement of belonging to something, to something bigger than themselves,” said Martocchio. “We really have been looking forward to it.”
Martocchio and other diocese employees will be taking a bus that departs Monday to attend the World Meeting of Families, held every three years and sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family.
They will go to events throughout the week and hear from several international Catholic leaders about the critical role the family plays in society and discussions about the challenges families face.
The main event is Saturday’s closing ceremony, where Pope Francis is expected to speak. Martocchio said he hopes to hear the pope deliver a message of unity.
“The pope tends to be a politicized figure and every side, left and right, want to claim him on their own sides,” said Martocchio. “I’d like to see him say something that brings together the divisions in our culture and maybe the way to do that is perhaps offend both sides of the aisle.”
Martocchio says as Catholics, he believes they transcend political divisions.
“He will probably mention a lot about American consumerism, which will offend people on the right. And then he will probably talk about the culture of right-to-life issues, which will probably offend people on the left.”
Pope Francis plans to address political leaders during his trip to Washington, a first for a pope. The capital city is where Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston will get a chance to see him. Pope Francis wants to meet with all the bishops, according to Guglielmone.
“I think he is constantly after the bishops and priests to be present to the people, to live lives that are simple and not give the impression that there is a separation with the people,” said Guglielmone.
Guglielmone admires the pope’s own willingness to be “present to the people,” which he believes is a driving factor in his popularity.
“He has captured the hearts of so many people, Catholics as well as non-Catholics,” he said.
Among the Catholics who also wish to be in the presence of the pope is Fe Dosch, 63, of Summerville. As a member of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek, Dosch organized a pilgrimage, which several were willing to join.
“Some people cannot afford to go to Rome to see the pope, so I decided I am going to organize a trip and those who want to join me can see the pope,” she said. “Jesus is no longer physically on Earth, so it makes you feel closer to God.”
This six-day trip is Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. He arrives in the U.S. Tuesday.