A PARISH WITH a traveler as its patron saint will send a Northeast Philadelphia family to greet Pope Francis when his plane lands in Philadelphia later this month.

Retired Highway Patrol Officer Richard Bowes - with his wife, Bernadette, and their three children - will stand with Archbishop Charles Chaput on a runway at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday, Sept. 26, to welcome the pontiff and give him a mountain laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania.

The Boweses, parishioners who live in the same block as St. Christopher Parish on Proctor Road in the Somerton section of the Northeast, include son Matthew Bowes, 12, and daughters Riley, 11, and Gabrielle, 9, all of whom attend the K-8 school adjacent to the church.

Richard Bowes was wounded in a Sept. 23, 2008, shootout in North Philadelphia in which his partner was killed. Officer Patrick McDonald was shot several times on Colorado Street near Dauphin when the driver in a routine traffic stop was found to be a formerly convicted carjacker with a warrant out for his arrest.

Bowes, who left his motorcycle to chase Giddings, fought through a bullet in his hip and fired back, wounding Giddings, who died later that night.

He hasn't forgotten his partner, a graduate of St. Joseph's University and a former star athlete at Archbishop Ryan High School in the Northeast.

"I think about him every day. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him," Richard Bowes said after Mass yesterday in the center aisle at St. Christopher's. "The anniversary is coming up."

Bernadette Bowes was quick to mention that the church has helped the family through hard times since the injury.

"They've gotten us through these past seven years," she said.

Reporters gathered in the back of the church during the final blessing of the 10:30 a.m. Mass, awaiting official announcement of the news from Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families.

Bernadette Bowes mouthed, "Oh, my goodness!" as her husband led the family to the front of the church, where they hugged a teary-eyed Farrell and Monsignor Joseph Garvin amid a standing ovation from the roughly 200 people in attendance.

"Sometimes we get caught up in the logistics," Farrell said. "It's important that we try to step back and remember the real purpose of this event, which is to join together in faith and celebration to strengthen the bond of families and to reaffirm the importance of family in our lives."

"I couldn't think of a better family for this," said Garvin, the church's pastor. Garvin said he had mentioned the Boweses to Farrell and Chaput, who sought one family that could represent the Archdiocese at the World Meeting.

Richard and Bernadette, both from Philadelphia, met on a blind date in 1992. They were raised in Catholic families.

"We definitely grew our faith through them," Bernadette Bowes said. "We just buried my mother on Thursday. I would have loved to have to been able to tell her."

Before the announcement, only a select few including Richard Bowes, Garvin, Farrell and reporters knew that one family would be chosen to meet the Pope.

Richard Bowes called Matthew's soccer coach to say that his son couldn't play in yesterday's game, scheduled to start not long after Mass ended. But he was instructed to keep the news a secret until church on Sunday.

"My job was to get them here and make sure they looked good," he said.

Getting to meet the pope in person is "unfathomable," Bernadette Bowes said. "There are 50 other families who deserve this. . . . There's always someone here who has our back. It's a great community; when they wrap their arms around you, they raise you up."

" @JBrandt_TU