Mark Carter, an electrical contractor from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, won by lottery four tickets to each of the main events during the Pope’s time in Philadelphia.
At first, the man — who says he was raised Baptist, but isn’t religious — said he was interested in attending the events because of their historical significance. However, he soon found himself wanting to give to others.
Upon observing this week’s events in Philadelphia dedicated to the family, he said, “As I saw all these people getting together peacefully, I was in awe. To me, it really said something positive about the human race.”
In response, he wanted to participate in this goodness, deciding to make it his business to give his tickets away to those for whom it would make a big difference.
“Although I did have an interest in going,” he said, “I knew that for many of the faithful around me, on these streets of Philadelphia, to see Pope Francis here would be such a moving, spiritual experience.”
Thus, he started to seek out such people, beginning first with people who for their whole lives wanted to see the Pope in Rome, but never had the chance.
“I gave them not just the tickets, but even my SEPTA passes for getting around,” he said. He also explained how little by little he found others, including parents and children and elderly spouses who would value them.
“When people offered me money, I always refused,” he told me.
As our conversation continued, Carter mentioned that he was satisfied with doing this, but he still had two tickets and then asked the ZENIT journalist to help him find two more people.
The man lamented that often groups are in three’s, which makes things difficult, but was confident we’d find the right pair.
Heather, a pregnant mother from Wisconsin, realized that Carter was offering the tickets and was visibly moved. She recounted to ZENIT how when she first learned almost a year ago that Pope Francis would be in Philadelphia, she booked her flight and hotel. However, she said, she didn’t have a ticket. She noted how the day before, upon arrival, someone was generous enough to gift her theirs.
A minute afterward, two young people were crossing the street. Immediately, Carter offered them the tickets and they were shocked, smiling, and accepted.
“Can we pay you?” Kathy, a University of Illinois at Chicago student, asked about the tickets for her and David, a student from Northern Illinois University. They are both getting ready to continue their education in Physical Therapy school.
“No,” Carter responded, but with a clause: “You just have to promise me to do something nice for somebody else.”
They all hugged. The students explained how they spontaneously decided to visit Philly for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “We emailed about 20 different host families, but all were already basically booked. However, there was one still welcoming pilgrims. And that’s where we’ve been.”
“We flew cheaply with Frontier airlines, have been with this host familiy, and everyone has been so incredibly kind. We are even given baked goods and breakfast. So caring,” Kathy said.
With Kathy and David saying so many nice words, Carter jokingly added: “See, the people of Philadelphia are really good.”