The last time I saw The Holy Father in person, it was a much shorter journey than the one I'm about to take with my trusted NBC10 videographer, Jason Ryan and hard-working producer & NBC10 digital managing editor Karen Araiza.
It was 1987, and I was working as an anchor and reporter at the ABC-owned station in Houston, Texas.
What I recall is a fairly massive team of anchors, reporters, videographers, producers and managers all hit the road for San Antonio, with an ambitious plan to bring live coverage of Pope John Paul II's visit to The Alamo City. Much was made of the extreme heat that September day, as hundreds of thousands gathered in anticipation of an outdoor mass.
I remember the faithful lining the streets of San Antonio in deep rows curbside, waiting for a glimpse of their spiritual leader as he made his way through the city in his Popemobile. The cheering was deafening; the excitement infectious. It was then that I had my last in-person papal glimpse as Pope John Paul II slowly rode past, near our live broadcasting location.
Let's not do the math on how many years ago that was, shall we? But this time, the opportunity for me to see a Pope comes as Philadelphia sends a high-level delegation to Rome to plan for The World Meeting of Families, to be held in our city in September, 2015.
Mayor Michael Nutter, Governor Tom Corbett and Archbishop Charles Chaput will be joined by civic leaders from Philadelphia as they have a private audience with Pope Francis and meet with Vatican organizers of the WMOF.
We will be there at The Vatican as those leaders emerge from their private morning meeting with The Holy Father, which will be their opportunity to try to ensure that Pope Francis decides to attend the WMOF. While expectations are that he will attend and likely preside over an outdoor mass, attracting millions to Philadelphia, The Vatican has yet to make any official announcement. But as Mayor Nutter told us in anticipation of his rare opportunity to encourage a Philadelphia visit, "I don't think you 'sell' The Pope. I think you wait for a decree."
As some involved with this delegation trip have noted, anything is possible with this seemingly spontaneous, out-of-the-box-thinking Pope. "Maybe he'll lean over and say, 'I'll see you there,' said one source, quickly adding, that's not expected.
Whatever happens, my team and I have been preparing for weeks for this trip. As you see in this photo, I did manage to squeeze in a little battery-recharging time with my family ahead of our departure, but everything's in place now to bring you some compelling stories; many chock full of Philadelphia connections.
We will begin our coverage from Rome Sunday night at 11pm. Karen, and I will also be sharing our experiences and video on nbc10.com and we'll be tweeting about the visit, too, as events unfold. Follow us on Twitter @jimrosenfield and @karenaraiza.
Look for our hashtag #nbc10pope.