Monica Cote doesn’t mind that in the crush of a million people who are expected to converge on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway next Sunday, hoping to see Pope Francis celebrate Mass, she might not lay eyes on the man himself.

A registered nurse from Bangor, Cote is much more concerned about the spiritual aspects of her planned journey to the City of Brotherly Love. The limits of the physical world were something that she and her husband, Vincent, who was a deeply spiritual man, discussed often before he died last year after a long illness.

“Monica,” he would tell her, “you get way more with less.”

It’s a mindset that helps to explain why Cote, 61, recently gave up her career to help care for her 8-month-old twin granddaughters while her daughter establishes herself as a physician working in underserved areas of Maine.

Monica Cote will travel to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis celebrate Mass next Sunday. Cote is a nurse who left her job to care for her twin 8-month-old granddaughters, Eva, left, and Marie.

Monica Cote will travel to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis celebrate Mass next Sunday. Cote is a nurse who left her job to care for her twin 8-month-old granddaughters, Eva, left, and Marie. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

So Cote’s hope – as she prepares to join hundreds of Mainers who will travel to see the pope this week when he visits Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia – is to feel the “ripple effect” of his love and compassion.

“I want to be in the spiritual energy that this is going to produce,” Cote said. “The world is in such turmoil and I know Pope Francis has a positive effect on people, both Catholic and non-Catholic. I want to be a part of that in my earthly lifetime.”

Cote is one of about 50 pilgrims from across Maine, all with their own motivations, who will travel from Portland to Philadelphia on a bus trip organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. She joined the Portland group after a bus trip planned by her home parish, St. Paul the Apostle in Bangor, quickly filled up with a similar number of people.

A third bus, organized by Knights of Columbus councils in the St. John River Valley, is heading for Philadelphia as well, carrying about 50 people from the strongly French Catholic communities of Fort Kent, Frenchville, St. Agatha, Madawaska, St. David, Grand Isle and Van Buren in northern Aroostook County.

Hundreds of other Mainers will travel to see Pope Francis on their own, including state Rep. Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford, who plans to attend the Mass that the pontiff is scheduled to celebrate Wednesday afternoon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Fecteau got his ticket to the Mass through a lottery offered to alumni of Catholic University of America, where he graduated in 2014. Fecteau will be one of about 25,000 people who are expected to crowd the basilica’s steps and the university’s mall.

“I’ll be excited to be in his presence,” Fecteau said. “I’m not sure I’ll understand much of what he says.”

The entire service will be conducted in Spanish, the Argentinian pope’s native language, because it’s a canonization Mass for Junipero Serra, a Franciscan friar who started nine Spanish missions in California in the 1700s and is considered the founder of the Spanish church in the United States. Native American groups are protesting the ceremony, saying that Serra doesn’t deserve sainthood because the mission system persecuted California Indians, offenses for which Pope Francis has apologized.

Despite any controversy surrounding the Catholic Church, the week ahead promises to be historic in many ways, as Pope Francis visits the United States for the first time ever, with plans to deliver the first papal address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday. The Mass next Sunday in Philadelphia will cap the first World Meeting of Families to be held in the United States since Pope John Paul II launched the massive Catholic gatherings in 1994.

Pope Francis comes to the United States after making groundbreaking statements that offered understanding and some measure of forgiveness to homosexuals, divorced Catholics and women who’ve had abortions.

When he became pope, he told reporters he chose to name himself after Francis of Assisi because the 12th-century saint “is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” In that vein, he has championed the poor, blasted corporate greed and called for a planet-saving response to climate change. At the same time, he has remained steadfast in the church’s opposition to contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.

ACCEPTANCE AND UNDERSTANDING

Fecteau, 23, is the youngest openly gay state representative in the United States and was the first openly gay speaker of the student association at CUA. While he attends Mass regularly and his love of the Gospel is strong, Fecteau wrestles with Catholic doctrine that has long made him feel like an outsider in his own church.

“When you’re going through the process of figuring out who you are, you’re made to feel unwelcome and disenfranchised,” Fecteau said. It was especially hurtful to hear family members use their religion to explain why they didn’t support gay rights, he said.

Fecteau appreciates that Pope Francis has made a point of living humbly and calling on believers to help the poor, protect the environment and demand social justice in the world. He’s glad the pope is promoting the more positive messages of Jesus Christ rather than focusing narrowly on the church’s opposition to gay marriage, abortion and contraception.

“It’s inspiring and speaks to the Jesuit tradition he comes from,” Fecteau said. “You’re seeing a pope who’s trying to get us back to a tradition of living what’s in the Gospel. Pope Francis has taken us by the hand and is leading us there more so than any of his predecessors.”

And while Catholic doctrine still counts homosexual acts as sinful, Fecteau heard acceptance and understanding when Pope Francis told reporters, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Fecteau has a T-shirt that features the pope’s face and the saying “Who am I to judge?” He plans to wear it when he attends the Mass in Washington. He’s pretty pumped about the prospect of seeing the man who has made him feel more welcomed in the church.

“I’ll be like a teenager at a Taylor Swift concert,” he said.

JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS

Fecteau also plans to be outside the Capitol on Thursday morning when the pope addresses Congress. As many as 200 other Mainers are expected to be there as well. Each member of Maine’s congressional delegation, including Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, received 50 tickets for seats on the Capitol lawn, where special guests will be able to watch the address on large video screens.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree got email requests from 652 constituents and distributed her 50 tickets through a random drawing, said spokesman Willy Ritch. Each representative and senator also received a ticket for a special guest to be seated in the gallery of the House of Representatives during the address.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pingree’s gallery guest will be former Gov. Joseph Brennan, 80, a lifelong member of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Portland who graduated from Cheverus High School and Boston College.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, has invited the Rev. Michael Seavey, administrator of Portland’s parishes, to be his gallery guest, according to the diocese.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is Catholic, will be joined by her 88-year-old mother, Patricia, a devout Catholic who was the religious education director at Holy Rosary Church in Caribou for 10 years, a former board chairwoman of Catholic Charities Maine and a former lay representative to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“She is ecstatic at this opportunity,” Sen. Collins said. “It was easy to decide who to give my one ticket to. I can’t imagine anything I could do that would make her more happy.”

It will be a special moment for the senator as well, though she met Pope John Paul II in Rome in 2001 when she was part of a bipartisan delegation that delivered a Congressional Gold Medal to the pontiff. She also was at Washington Nationals baseball stadium in 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass with 46,000 people.

“But this is truly the most special,” Collins said of Pope Francis’ congressional address. “I truly love this pope and his message and his humility. This pope has been so inclusive in his approach, which is very appealing to me. He has reached out to former Catholics and made them feel welcome. I can’t tell you how many of my non-Catholic friends have expressed a fondness for Pope Francis and his messages of forgiveness and inclusiveness.”

Maine’s congressional delegation also is expected to attend a welcoming ceremony at the White House on Wednesday morning before the pope meets privately with President Obama. Pingree’s guest for that event will be former Democratic state legislator Anne Rand of Portland, Ritch said.

A DIFFICULT TRIP

For most Mainers traveling to Philadelphia, there will be no ticketed seating and little hope of meeting Pope Francis. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million people are expected to attend the Mass next Sunday on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, said Gregory Sylvain, spokesman for Canterbury Pilgrimages, a Bedford, New Hampshire, company that arranges Catholic pilgrimages to religious events and spiritually significant places.

The buses traveling from Portland and Bangor are among 50 Philadelphia pilgrimages that Canterbury has arranged for church groups across the country. The pilgrims from Portland will be visiting two shrines Saturday, including a Mass for about 2,000 faithful at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa that will be celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley of the Maine diocese.

Sylvain said nearly 4,000 buses have received Homeland Security permits to park at designated sites that are 3 to 4 miles from the parkway, a mile-long scenic boulevard that stretches from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous in the film “Rocky,” to Philadelphia City Hall.

Much of the city center will be closed to traffic. As a result, most people attending the Mass will have to walk many blocks and stand for hours before the 4 p.m. service, only to see the pontiff on massive video screens set up along the parkway.

“If they get a glimpse of him, they will be doing well,” Sylvain said. “They’ll probably see a better image of him on a Jumbotron.”

Including a 12-hour bus ride from Maine, the trek to the Mass next Sunday promises to be arduous.

“That’s what a pilgrimage is. It’s not supposed to be easy,” said Annette Rioux, a diocese administrator who helped to organize the trip.

TRAVELING FROM THE COUNTY

Add four more hours for the 50 folks traveling from Aroostook County to Philadelphia.

That bus was organized by George Dionne, 63, a retired postal carrier and former Maine Army National Guard major who lives in Grand Isle. A logistics expert, Dionne began planning the trip last November, by which time all hotel rooms within 30 miles of Philadelphia had been booked by church officials planning the World Meeting of Families.

George Dionne of Grand Isle, a bus trip organizer, says, “This pope is a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church.”

George Dionne of Grand Isle, a bus trip organizer, says, “This pope is a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church.”

He found rooms at an Embassy Suites in Parsippany, New Jersey, over an hour from Philadelphia. He had yellow polo shirts made up for group members to wear that feature the Knights of Columbus logo and the words “Pope Francis Philadelphia 2015.”

Dionne saw Pope Paul VI in his window at the Vatican in 1974. He had traveled to Rome while stationed with the Army in Germany. He was 23. The experience had a modest impact on him.

“I can’t remember who the pope was back then,” Dionne said. “This pope is a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church. He’s driving his little Ford Focus around. He’s down-to-earth. He’s making people think about poverty.”

Dionne also appreciates the way Pope Francis has reached out to gay people and others previously scorned by the church, though Dionne voted against gay marriage in Maine.

“Now I’m OK with it,” Dionne said. “It’s gone through. Marriage is just a word. The word meant something more to me. But he’s right. Who are we to judge?”

Guy and Barbara Roy of St. David hope to be on the bus with Dionne, along with two of their six adult children.

They’re playing it by ear because Guy Roy, a retired French teacher, has been battling stage 4 colorectal and liver cancer for three years. After meeting with a healing priest in Massachusetts, Roy experienced initial success with chemotherapy and other medical treatments. Now he’s taking a natural protocel treatment and hoping for a clean bill of health in October.

But it’s his faith and the future of the country that are Guy Roy’s primary concerns as he anticipates traveling to attend Mass celebrated by Francis.

“It’s an opportunity to strengthen my faith,” he said. “I feel our country is at a crossroads. We are blessed that he is coming and hopefully it will put our country on a better path.”

SEEKING GOD’S FAVORS

The Roys believe government is too big and they oppose abortion and gay marriage, though they appreciate the pope’s efforts to be less judgmental.

“He’s certainly trying to bring people together,” said Guy Roy, 69. “He’s doing it a little differently and we support him. He wants people to come back to the church, so he’s a little more receptive.”

Her husband’s health is first on Barbara Roy’s list of “favors” she’ll be seeking while in the pope’s presence. She’d also like the pontiff’s help in bringing some of her six children back to the Catholic faith.

“They’re all spiritual, loving people,” she said, “but we’d like them to follow the faith again like we do.”

Barbara and Guy Roy visit Mizpah, a Catholic retreat in Grand Isle, as he battles cancer. They plan to join about 50 other Catholics on a bus trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia next Sunday. Her husband’s health is first on Barbara Roy’s list of “favors” she’ll be seeking while in the pope’s presence.

Barbara and Guy Roy visit Mizpah, a Catholic retreat in Grand Isle, as he battles cancer. They plan to join about 50 other Catholics on a bus trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia next Sunday. Her husband’s health is first on Barbara Roy’s list of “favors” she’ll be seeking while in the pope’s presence. Kevin Bennett/Special to the Telegram

She’d also like to see a living saint in her lifetime.

“He is very holy,” said Barbara Roy, 64. “He’s here in a time of mercy. Where the pope is, Christ is.”

Guy Roy also hopes his wife gets to see Francis. He saw Pope John Paul II in Quebec City 31 years ago, when she was pregnant and unable to join him.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime, going together,” Guy Roy said. “It’s a big trip. A stressful trip. But it will be worth it.”

On a more personal note, Guy Roy plans to ask God to allow him to continue serving as choir director at St. Gerard Church in Grand Isle.

“I’d like to continue working for him, if he’s willing,” Roy said.