Pilgrims throng to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis

Pope Francis waves as Archbishop Charles Chaput, right, stands by, prior to celebrating Mass Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at the at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pope Francis waves as Archbishop Charles Chaput, right, stands by, prior to celebrating Mass Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at the at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics are making the pilgrimage to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis on the last leg of his first-ever visit to the United States, where they hoped to catch a glimpse of the popular pontiff at some point during his packed schedule – or even receive a blessing or healing touch.

Some of their stories:

DREAMING OF THE POPE

The dream came to Leslie Herring one night in July: Pope Francis picked her profoundly disabled daughter out of a crowd, hoisted her out of her wheelchair and blessed her.

And she was healed.

“The first thing she did was talk,” recalled Herring, 35, of Pottsville. “And then she got up and walked.”

Herring woke up from her dream in a cold sweat – and decided on the spot to make the trip to Philadelphia, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) away.

Her daughter, Debianne, who turned 7 on Friday, has suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy since infancy. She cannot walk or communicate except to blink her eyes yes and shake her head no.

The pair, along with Herring’s mother, were heading to a papal event at Independence Hall on Saturday and will be on a special viewing platform for disabled people at Sunday’s outdoor Mass. Herring, who was raised Roman Catholic but does not attend church regularly, is praying her dream will become reality, knowing it would be nothing short of miraculous.

“That’s how I felt when I woke up – that this is the miracle he will perform,” she said.

FRANCIS GROUPIES

Tony Coletta, a 62-year-old surgeon and CEO of a health care company outside Philadelphia, helped raise money to fund the World Meeting of Families and papal visit. He nabbed an aisle seat at the cathedral where Francis was celebrating Mass on Saturday.

He said he and his wife, Karen, are “Francis groupies.” She brought rosaries and medals in hopes of a papal blessing.

“The church has had tough times. Our city has had tough times. This is an opportunity for everybody to come together around an incredible man,” Coletta said.

“I believe that he’s going to bring the Catholic Church back in America in a way that nobody’s ever seen before. His message resonates. It’s much more of an all-encompassing one. And the small things that he does, spending time with the poor, it’s more than just symbolic,” he said. “He’s been doing it his whole life.”

Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam and Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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