A few weeks ago, Yao Kodjovi was scrambling to figure out how he and his family might catch a glimpse of Pope Francis during his historic visit to Philadelphia. But on Sunday, the Kodjovi family found themselves face to face with the Pope, after being asked to present gifts during the Papal Mass on the Parkway.
Yao, who works as a Documentation Specialist in Magee’s Medical Records Department, remembers the date exactly. On September 15, he got a call from his priest at the African Francophone Catholic Community of Philadelphia. The priest told Yao to expect another call in a few minutes from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Moments later, a representative was asking Yao if he and his family would like to be part of the Papal Mass.
“Of course, I said yes!” Yao recalls. “It was really, really such an honor.”
Turns out, the Archdiocese had asked Yao’s church for a list of its married couples. Yao, who is from Togo in West Africa, his wife, and their daughters, ages 4 and 2, were selected from that list to be part of the mass. Also selected were families from the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, and the United States.
The day of the mass was a whirlwind. The families knew they’d have a rehearsal, but only learned at the very last minute when and where it would be.
“Everything was about security,” Yao says. “They did background checks on everyone, even the kids!”
As for the moment he and his family stepped forward to present the gifts to the Pope, Yao says, “I was emotional, nervous. But when we started walking, it just went away.
Philly.com snapped this incredible photo of Pope Francis blessing Yao’s child when they reached the altar.
Yao says he’s not sure whether his daughters will remember this once in a lifetime experience, but he looks forward to showing them the photos one day when they are old enough to understand.
Photo: Yao Kodjovi (back row, second from left) poses with his wife, children, and three other families selected to participate in the Papal Mass on Sunday, September 27. Courtsey: Yao Kodjovi