It lasted only minutes, Bob Bubencik Jr.'s glimpse of Pope John Paul II almost 29 years ago. He was a child, waiting in the rain with his parents among hundreds of thousands who had come to witness the Catholic faith's most exalted figure as he passed through Boston.
All Bubencik saw that day was a fleeting image of a man in robes passing in a motorcade. He hardly knew what to make of it. But he gradually came to think of the moment as a revelation; as he grew up, married, and had children of his own, he found that he returned to it in his mind again and again.
"It kind of tied it all together for me, as a Catholic, my faith and seeing the pope," he said.
Now Bubencik wants to make memories again, this time for his children. He and his wife, Laurie, are taking three of their five children, 8-year-old Emily and 9-year-old twins Adam and Heather to New York to hear Benedict XVI's Papal Mass on Sunday, hoping the experience will take root in them the way it did in him.
"I think it's important to show the kids that it's more than going to church on Sundays."
Across the region, thousands of faithful are preparing to make the journey during Benedict's first US visit, with reasons as diverse as the people themselves. Among them: a man from Lowell who wants to validate his recently rediscovered faith after a long absence from the church; a high school girl who wants to get to know this pope better; a Boston College junior giddy about his first papal Mass; nuns from the Daughters of St. Paul in Jamaica Plain who have seen many papal events but just can't get enough.
Youth groups, fellow parishioners, and individuals planning to go it alone got ready to board planes or buses. More than 3,000 from the Boston area are expected to attend the Papal Mass at Yankee Stadium, but many will make the pilgrimage in hopes of simply catching a glimpse of the pontiff as he makes his way around the city.
Some, like a group of 300 Catholics led by Father Carlos Flor, the director of religious education at Immaculate Conception church in Revere, had not yet figured out particulars like lodging, or even whether all of them would get into the Mass. But they didn't worry.
"It's like an adventure. We don't know where we're going to eat," Flor said. "We don't know where we're going to sleep. But that sense of precariousness helps you come out of your routine. It's two days in which you trust in God. This is what we call the spirit of the pilgrim."
Many in this community of Catholics say they sometimes feel isolated in an increasingly secular society and are trying to move beyond the clergy sex abuse scandal that shook the faith of so many. They say they hope this will be an opportunity to reaffirm the values and traditions that first drew them to their church.
"This is going to remind us of the best of ourselves," said Sister Karen Marie Anderson, the novice director at the Daughters of St. Paul in Jamaica Plain, who will bring 10 of her novices to New York this weekend.
"To me, it's a sign that Christ is still in the world," said Katie Elrod, a theology teacher at Montrose Catholic High School in Medfield and the mother of a young son. Benedict "brings hope, direction. . . . I want to hear what I can do to love God better, to be a better person."
For some, expectations were deeply personal.
"I need hope," said Julian Nunez an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who will travel to New York with a group from St. Patrick Church in Lowell. "I have been lost, and for some reason I came here [to Catholicism]. Now the love of God is in my life. My motive on this trip is the salvation of hope."
Pope John Paul II's chief enforcer of doctrinal orthodoxy when he was named pope three years ago, Benedict remains a relative unknown to many, and Boston-area Catholics lucky enough to get tickets to the Mass see it as their first opportunity to evaluate their spiritual leader.
"I'm just getting to know him as pope," Bubencik said. "I'm hoping I can learn more about him, not just through the media or second-hand, but by hearing him speak."
"John Paul II had such a long pontificate, I think it's hard to get used to someone new," said Ana Teresa Buckley, 17, a junior at the Montrose School, who will travel to New York with some of her classmates Sunday. "I think his coming will inspire me to read his writings and get to know him better."
Those who have seen him before said they couldn't help but be inspired and moved by him.
"He just had such a warm face; it spoke such openness," said Rebecca Sullivan, 17, a junior at Montrose who has seen the pontiff twice in the past year: last summer on a family trip to Rome and earlier this month on a school trip to the Vatican for Easter Mass.
"You could tell he wanted to be there," said Elrod, who was also at the Easter service. "You could look him in the eye and see how he depends on our prayers."
Regardless of his message, many said they felt blessed simply to have the opportunity to be a part of the pope's historic visit.
"I just want to be there to welcome him and be part of the crowd reviving our faith," said Sister Bridget Ellis, music director at the Daughters of St. Paul. "It's so gracious of the pope to make the journey here. . . . It probably will be the first time that many see a papal Mass; it could be the only time. It should and ought to be a treasured moment."
Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.