Arizona Catholics make pilgrimage to see Pope Francis

Ryan and Becky Hanning and their eight children were traveling 2,300 miles by van to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia. They stopped at churches along the way, including this one in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Hanning)

Arizona Catholics are among the faithful making a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis during his visit to the United States.

“I think my goal is now for my children to know their faith,” said Elizabeth Nance, a Gilbert resident.

Nance is taking her family of five, including her young granddaughter, to Philadelphia, one of three cities the pope will visit.

“Not just to say they’re Catholic, but to know why they’re Catholic, to know their faith, to know why we believe what we believe, that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist,” she said.

During his first trip to the United States, Pope Francis has stops in Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia.

The Nance family couldn’t get tickets to any specific event but managed to find a hotel on the pope’s parade route in Philadelphia.

“If we have to stake out our place, we’ll be able to be right outside the hotel,” Nance said.

Excitement is also building among Catholic youth in Arizona. A group of students at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School is flying from Phoenix to Philadelphia.

“My goal is really to be able to take in the presence of the Holy Father by truly meditating the beauty and graces of what I’m seeing because not anyone just gets to see the Holy Father every day,” said Nahamee Guerrero, a youth group leader.

Guerrero is looking forward to seeing the first pope from Latin America.

“I feel like it’s extra exciting to know that we have a pope that comes from Latin America because we haven’t really had that and he knows the struggles of what’s going on,” she said.

While most are flying, some families are taking a cross-country road trip, including Ryan and Becky Hanning and their eight children.

“My wife and I hope that our children increase in their own personal holiness and find a renewed sense of awe in the beauty of the places and people they reach,” Ryan Hanning said.

The Hannings climbed into a large passenger van last Friday and began the roughly 2,300-mile journey.

The Hanning children range in age from 15 months to 14 years old. They have tickets to the Philadelphia Mass and will attend the Festival of Families gathering where Pope Francis will address the crowd.

“Pope Francis has struck a chord and excited a lot of people,” Ryan Hanning said. “He leads with love, and it’s inspiring to see.”