PHILADELPHIA - When Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia Saturday morning, he'll be welcomed at the airport by a retired Philadelphia police officer who was shot in the line of duty.
Joining Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput on a runway at Philadelphia International Airport to greet the pontiff will be Richard Bowes, his wife, Bernadette, and their three children.
Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput. (Photo: The Catholic Standard and Times)
The Bowes family was nominated for the honor by Monsignor Joseph Garvin, their pastor at St. Christopher Parish in the Somerton section of far Northeast Philadelphia.
In a telephone conversation late Friday afternoon on the eve of the pope's arrival, it was clear just how excited the Bowes are about this unlikely occurrence.
The family was stunned that they were chosen. "Who thinks you are going to meet the pope, that you are going to be close enough to touch him?" Richard Bowes says. "It's unbelievable."
He added, "We're upset that we're not worthy enough to be in his presence . . . There must be a reason, but we don't know what that is. We'll just try to share it with as many people as we can."
Richard Bowes says his son Matthew calls the coming event "Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled up into one."
So what will the Bowes clan say to the pontiff? "We'll ask his blessing for world peace and for all of the police and firemen and military," he says. "Everybody needs that right now."
Their selection was announced at St. Christoper on Sept. 14 by Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, which the pope will be addressing this weekend.
Why were the Bowes the one family picked to meet the pope?
"Recently, Monsignor Garvin shared with us the extraordinary, faith-filled story of a family from St. Christopher's, and we are so incredibly glad he did," Crilley Farrell said. "Despite their fair share of hardships, including a moment of senseless violence that would challenge any one of us here today, this family has remained strong in their faith. Being vitally engaged in the life of the parish and its elementary school, theirs is a quiet strength."
She said she and her colleagues had been very moved by the Bowes' pastor's endorsement.
"We could not have been more moved by Monsignor Garvin's recommendation of your family for this special honor – and as you are forever part of another special family to us, the Philadelphia Police Department – we could not think of a better family to say to the Holy Father, 'Welcome to Philadelphia,'" she said.
After the announcement, a teary-eyed Bernadette wondered, "What do you say to the pope?" while Matthew said he might suggest that the pope try a cheesesteak.
Richard Bowes was wounded in a gun battle in North Philadelphia in 2008 that came after a traffic stop. The driver turned out be an ex-con with an outstanding arrest warrant who opened fire, killing Bowes' partner, Patrick McDonald.
Shot in the leg, Bowes pursued the assailant and fatally wounded him. The bullet shattered Bowes' pelvis.
But he has bounced back.
"We're very blessed," Bowes says, "and very lucky to be the ones chosen."
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