With a year to build on the exciting knowledge that the popular Pope Francis would attend the World Meeting of Families, the city watched with anticipation (and perhaps a little trepidation) as he visited Washington and New York, knowing his caravan's next and final US stop was here in Philadelphia. And while Mayor Nutter and City Hall let their own planning narrative spin wildly out of control from the beginning, those of us who elected to stay and see the circus took a deep breath and hoped for the best.
To be sure, there was all of the expected negativity you'd expect from a massive religious event in a city known for its massive negativity. People complained about being inconvenienced (despite six months to plan for a four-day weekend at most). Loads of people fled town for the shore, the Poconos, and parts far elsewhere. SEPTA just went and hid in the corner.
But for those who stayed—be they 142,000 or be they over a million—and in spite of the omnipresence of police and military vehicles and personnel, the overwhelming sentiment was one of joy. While there's no mistaking the World Meeting of Families for anything other than a large Catholic convention, Pope Francis' message of inclusion and love and mercy—"who am I to judge?"—is infectious enough to inspire loads of non-Catholics and even non-Christians. The faces of pilgrims and locals alike, and even most of the cops and military personnel, were full of smiles, enjoying the strangeness of a locked down Philadelphia with a positive message.
The photos here were taken between early Thursday afternoon and late Sunday night as part of Philadelphia magazine's coverage of Francis' visit. Some of them appeared via Twitter and the mag's live blog, as well as in stories written by the likes of Liz Spikol and Dan McQuade. Check out the archive HERE.
As for this, this is just one of them ol' Philly Skyline buncha-largeish-pics-on-one-page jams — Scenes from a Papal Visit. Hope you enjoy.
The one thing that genuinely bothered me for the entire weekend was the prevalence of single-use plastic bottled water. While it's thoughtful of Wawa to make so large a donation in the interest of keeping people hydrated, it would have been nice to see, say, half of those resources allocated to setting up more water stations. There were some, and the water in them was cold and clean, but those million plastic bottles—which sat in the sun for 48 hours before they were unwrapped—all have to go somewhere, and more often than not with flimsy plastic water bottles, it's the landfill. Boo.
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Media credentialing for the World Meeting of Families was a long and involved, Secret-Service-approved process. The Convention Center had a large, and I mean massive, media filing center for folks from all over the world. It had an impressive Google Labs projection feed, ping pong, cornhole, Chickie's & Pete's, Termini Brothers, and a bar stocked by Yards and more. There were also "media welcome" events at places like Reading Terminal Market (with Councilman Mark Squilla and RTM general manager Anuj Gupta), and at Comcast Center, where gelato was served from an ice sculpture with "#popeinphilly" carved into it and 'Eternally Rome' played on the Comcast lobby HDTV dealie.
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SCENES AT THE BASILICA
As the host parish, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was open for tours before Pope Francis gave mass there, and Meg Saligman's knotted grotto inspired heartfelt prayers and pleas for mercy and justice, and allowed people to share others' burdens.
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FAIRMOUNT PARK COMMUTE
I live in Mt Airy, eight miles from City Hall. To take SEPTA over the weekend, I would have had to travel two miles in the wrong direction to travel ten back and rely on the Papal Pass "schedule." I opted instead to ride my bike, a lovely commute through the Wissahickon, where there was a YMCA 5k, and through Fairmount Park along Kelly Drive, where the National Guard was already set up.
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TEMPORARY POLICE STATE
Obviously, security presence for the visit of the pope is going to be heavy out of necessity. And heavy it was. But it was fine—all of the police and military personnel I spoke with were very friendly, and many of the guardsmen were very young men (18-21) from elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
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One of the more hilarious visual takeaways from the weekend was the over 3,300 portapotties stationed in rows and rows all across Center City. And at least one row of them, on Market Street in front of the Mellon Bank Center, was fully tagged up by Sunday morning.
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Easily the biggest and most positive takeaway for the urbanist (and perhaps secular) crowd was a full 48 hours of life without cars on city streets. People walked, biked, skateboarded, played volleyball, threw frisbees, played wiffleball and more in the middle of the street, simply because they could. Oh, and the Ben Franklin Bridge became the hottest pedestrian place to be for a too-short spell. Props to Indego bike share for a record weekend.
Market Street west, Market Street east, no cars.
Bishop's Collar ... Pope-Up Beer Garden ... well played.
Major major props to Natasha and Jose Garces at Village Whiskey for getting it right. So many restaurants and bars lamented slow business, but Village Whiskey killed it with a tent and street burgers. Well done. (Er, medium rare, that is.)
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GENERAL SCENES AROUND TOWN
Tommy Dinic's in the Reading Terminal Market suffered unfortunately slow business over the weekend. But they remained in good spirits, and I saved at least one British journalist a trip to Pat's and Geno's and told her to just go across the street to for a better sandwich. Dinic's roast pork with sharp prov and broccoli rabe, I LOVE YOU.
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SCENES FROM INDEPENDENCE MALL
Many immigrants and families came to Independence Mall to hear Pope Francis speak on immigration and human dignity from the same lectern Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address from.
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Well, it is the pope. Protesters from both sides of the political aisle took their opportunity to wield a megaphone and a message.
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POPE FRANCIS EVERYWHERE
The likeness of Pope Francis was everywhere, from city-issued street banners to wholly bootleg (and often hilarious) t-shirts to Popemoji in the wild.
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SCENES FROM THE FESTIVAL OF FAMILIES
The main attractions of the weekend were Sunday mass on the Parkway, and Saturday night's Festival of Families concert. Props to my man Pete and the stagehands of IATSE Local 8 for a job well done setting up the stage and setting the scene.
Special thanks to Steve Weinik, Jane Golden, and the Mural Arts Program.
Popemobile on the Parkway!
Emcee Mark Wahlberg
The pope blesses a disabled Ukrainian boy
Pope Francis signs a mural created by Cesar Viveros for Mural Arts Program that will enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most contributors to an artwork and be installed at the St Malachy School at 11th & Thompson Streets.
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And then, it was over. I did not attend mass on the Parkway, but I was nearby to take in the exodus of the mass-es. After it concluded, people left on foot to return to one last night in a hotel, or to home, or to the long long lines at SEPTA's subway, el, and regional rail stations.
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GODSPEED, POPE FRANCIS.
So long from Philadelphia, Planet Earth, and the SUPER BLOOD MOON. We all hope you enjoyed your stay.
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