An Arizona family’s cross-country pilgrimage to see Pope Francis

This trip was not off to a smooth start for the Hanning family.

Ryan and Becky Hanning and their eight children were still stuck in the car rental section of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport two hours after they were supposed to be on the road. The 12-passenger van they had reserved was nowhere to be found.

Finally, after a few hours of working with two rental companies, the family of 10 loaded the car with luggage and 65 quarts of pre-made meals and hit the road.

Pope Francis was 35 hours and 2,300 miles away.

They made it six days later, when they drove up to the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday morning. Posters, placards and portable bathrooms lined the streets miles away from where the pope was scheduled to be.

“It’s beautiful to see” Hanning said. “It’s probably about the most religious thing you’ve ever seen.”

Ryan Hanning is the assistant vice president for strategic partnerships and director of cultural advancement at University of Mary-Tempe. He and his family drove from Phoenix to Philadelphia to see the pope at the Festival of Families on Sept. 26 and 27.

The Festival of Families combines music, entertainment and education to create a celebration of family, community and faith. The event closes with Sunday Mass at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Tickets are required because so many people are expected at the events, but the Hanning family was lucky – they will be attending both the festival and Mass.

The journey

The group made it to Denver late Saturday morning, where unexpected invitations began to set the tone for the rest of the trip.

They celebrated Mass with a Spanish priest at the Shrine of St. Frances Cabrini and met a group from the Colorado Chapter of the Knight of Columbus, who invited the family to a barbeque.

“God is good,” Hanning said.

From Saturday to Sunday, they made it to Kansas City. Hanning had several speaking engagements scheduled along the route, but the family made time to stop for a hike.
They stayed in Kansas City until Tuesday, when they left for Carmel, Indiana. The family stopped briefly along the way, at St. Joseph’s Shrine in St. Louis and the Shrine of St. Theodore Guerin in Indiana.

The destination

Finally, they made it.

Two kids got carsick along the way.

“It was the middle of the night, with very little warning,” Hanning said.

Random encounters with strangers meant that they didn’t eat a lot of the pre-made food because so many people wanted to help out.

“You could call it a conspiracy of faith.”

A police officer advised the family to park far away if they did not want to get blocked in by traffic and security – 30 blocks away to be exact.

And the best part of the trip? That one was easy for the Hanning father to answer. It was saying a daily rosary.

“It was absolutely gorgeous, during sunset, closing the day with that was definitely a highlight,” Hanning said. “It was amazing to see the stars and reflect on the Holy Father’s comments on glorifying the Lord and his creation.”

The Hannings will stay with several other families who made similar pilgrimages, at the University of Pennsylvania.

The couple said they hope their children continue to learn and meet new people throughout the trip.

“We love that they not only experience this on their own but they encounter friends along the way,” Hanning said.

The Hanning family will join hordes of others at the Festival of Families this weekend, where Pope Francis will close his American trip with Mass.