Carnival-like mood for papal parade

Pope Francis waving five-year-old Sofia Cruz through security after she had climbed over a barrier and darted out to hand him a letter. Tens of thousands had flocked to Washington, DC to catch a glimpse of the Pope, who is making his inaugural visit
Pope Francis waving five-year-old Sofia Cruz through security after she had climbed over a barrier and darted out to hand him a letter. Tens of thousands had flocked to Washington, DC to catch a glimpse of the Pope, who is making his inaugural visit to the US.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Cleaner Ingrid Vaca, 51, secured a choice spot for the papal parade in downtown Washington, DC on Wednesday at 11am, but she had to work hard to earn it.

Ms Vaca started waiting at 7pm the night before and told The Straits Times she barely slept trying to ensure she would be among the first allowed into the security cordon set up along the parade route.

In fact, her journey to see Pope Francis started some eight days earlier when she and a group of other women set off on foot from York, Pennsylvania, determined to symbolically walk 160km for the Pope.

"We walked for the Pope and we wanted to encourage him to talk about the immigrant issue when he meets American leaders," said the immigrant from Bolivia.

Ms Vaca was among the tens of thousands who flocked to the United States capital to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who is making his inaugural visit to the US.

And while few went to the extremes Ms Vaca did, many did put in special effort to see the Pope. Thousands had woken up at the crack of dawn to try and get the best spots.

Ms Linda Franklin, 66, said the parade route was already packed when she arrived at 5.30am. She took a train from Detroit the day before just to see the Pope and stayed up late to make a sign she could hold up bearing the names and photos of her family members.

Mr Al Ferrugiano, 68, a consultant and resident of Washington, had family come in from all over the country after he told them the Pope would make a visit.

Though security in the area was tight - with all those gathered having to go through metal detectors - the scene still took on a carnival atmosphere. Vendors selling Pope T-shirts, caps, posters and flags were doing brisk business, as were those peddling ice cream and water.

With most of the crowd waiting for hours in the sun for the parade to begin, many kept themselves entertained by chanting and singing songs.

When the Pope finally arrived, the crowd took photos, cheered and some even held up children for the Pope to bless.

On at least one occasion, Pope Francis obliged, making an unplanned stop to kiss a baby picked out from the crowd by Vatican security.

A five-year-old girl, Sofia Cruz, briefly became the centre of attention when she climbed over a barrier and darted out to hand the Pope a letter. Guards stopped her but the Pope waved her through, and gave her a hug and a kiss.

Jeremy Au Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Carnival-like mood for papal parade'. Print Edition | Subscribe