The Pope’s Visit: Peace, Love, and Roadblocks

benjamin-pkwy dusk-4th-july-960VP(1)Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the Fourth of July. (Source: Visit Philly.)

Pope fever is running high in Philadelphia. On September 26–27, when my hometown hosts the World Gathering of Families, the City of Brotherly Love will be put to the test.

In 1979, when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass here, fewer than half a million people attended. This time? Imagine Woodstock, the Super Bowl, and a free Andrea Bocelli concert combined—then multiply times ten. Why? Because this is a decidedly different pope. One whose concern for the poor and the environment resonates with believers and nonbelievers alike. (Actually, Andrea Bocelli really is performing a concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.)

“I think he’s the best pope so far,” said Howard Silverman, a retired college instructor and secular Jew. “I’m glad he said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ regarding LGBT, but the church needs to open up its stance on women and gays, also gay marriage.” Silverman plans to attend events that are walking distance from his condo. “I know it will be mobbed, but there’ll be 40 Jumbotron screens. I think it will be exciting.” The pope will make his speech in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at one end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Author Cordelia Frances Biddle sees a connection between the pope and her biography of a Philadelphia philanthropist who rose to sainthood, Saint Katharine: the Life of Katharine Drexel. “Katharine Drexel’s life’s work was devoted to social justice and parity. She was a firebrand, just like Pope Francis is now,” said Biddle. “If I had ten minutes with Pope Francis, I would thank him for his radical ministry of love and inclusion, which mirror Christ’s teachings that all are equal in the sight of God.”

Unfortunately, Philly seems to be preparing for an invasion from Mars, not simply for His Holiness. During the pope’s visit, all major highways in and out of the city will be shut down. We’re told that these closures are due to “security and safety issues,” but Philly hasn’t taken precautions of this magnitude since 9/11.

Conflicting news bulletins from City Hall warn that getting around the city will require Olympian agility. They are banning all cars, buses, and taxis from the inner city. “Be prepared to walk miles!” warns a press release. Yes, there will be commuter rail service, but it will be limited to a few stations, and tickets will be sold in advance, by lottery. You want a train ticket? Start praying now!

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  • Roz Warren September 8, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    I know a lot of people who are leaving town until it’s all over.

  • Rhonda flemming September 5, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Great reporting.
    No one knows how many will brave the police state. The mayor is running scared and the poor, as usual will suffer.

  • Suzanne Fluhr September 4, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    I’m embarrassed to say that I will be watching on TV from “down the shore” in Brigantine, New Jersey even though (or perhaps–because) we live just a few blocks from the inner most security area—but within the outermost security perimeter. The City fathers/mothers were having a freak out about all the security preparations and apparently, have managed to scare off a good many people. Now they’re have what I call a “reverse” freak out, worried that not enough people will show up. If you allow links in comments, here’s my take on Popeapocalypse Now.

  • Wally Hayman September 4, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Nice article.
    When I read about all the ridiculous highway and bridge closings, I immediately suspected city officials were preparing for a comet strike the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs – but you could be right about a pending Martian invasion. People keep seeing stone carvings and even ghost humans in pics coming back from Mars. I keep seeing ghost faces on my rye toast but that likely has less dire significance.
    I wonder where the Martians will head first, Pat’s or Geno’s?

  • Kay Dougherty September 4, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I think this Pope is a big step forward although I think a long stride is needed even more than a big step! All of this protection must be going to cost Philly a fortune. Maybe the rich Vatican will pay for it so tax money for Philly doesn’t have to be diverted from social programs for the poor! 🙂