When I told people I planned to go see Pope Francis on Saturday in Philadelphia, most of them thought I was crazy. After all, who in their right mind would want to put up with extreme crowds, security checkpoints, and crazy restrictions on transportation and navigation around the city? I’ll admit I even thought I was crazy for venturing down. However, as a Catholic and a resident of the Philly burbs, I knew this was one of those events that probably would only come around once in a lifetime. So, along with my parents, I headed off on Saturday morning to catch a train down into the adventure known as “Popedelphia.”
Getting down into the city was pretty simple. My train line was a straight shot from departure to destination, and we were able to snag a spot in the station parking lot instead of having to park a distance away at the local mall. (Shout out to the amazing officer who let us know about the open spots!) Surprisingly, the lot and the train were pretty empty with next to no chaos during boarding or the ride. Even, when we reached our destination, things were pretty calm and the crowd was relatively thin for what I had been expecting at the event. After making stop at the World Meeting of Families official store and taking a few snapshots with a life-size cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, we made our journey through the Center City streets towards the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Once we got through the main security checkpoint that allowed visitors to access the zone that didn’t require tickets, we were thrust right into the heart of the action. I took in the festival-like atmosphere as we made our way down through Love Park. The streets were lined with food trucks, souvenir stands, and people from all walks of life hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope. Even the guy know as Philly Jesus was in attendance. (I’ll admit I was fascinated to see him in person. I didn’t even know he was still around.) The city even set up jumbotrons at various corners so those who were unable to get into the ticketed events or near the open events could still be a part of the action. We reached our destination as the mass at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul was ending. Word came that Pope Francis would be coming down the street, so we all gathered at the barrier to catch a glimpse of him. While I waited, I chatted with some girls around my age of how how cute we thought the Secret Service guys were as we stood on the steps of one of the high-rise apartment buildings.
However, it ended up being a false report.
We me up with some family friends and killed time at an Irish bar for a couple hours. (Yay, for real bathrooms and a place to sit!) We had heard from fellow crowd members that there were rumors Pope Francis would be making an appearance again, so we made our way to back to the barricade a little after 3:00 for the possible parade at 4:00. We lucked out and snagged a spot right up against the barricade, but, once again, this was a false alarm. As we stood around waiting for the official parade at 7:00, we struck up a conversation with a family of women who were in town for the event. They spanned the country with one from Nashville, one from Chicago, one from New York, one from Philadelphia, and two from Indianapolis. The trip was a Christmas gift for their mother who was well into her seventies. She and one of her daughter’s mother-in-laws (also around the same age) were absolute troopers refusing to leave their prime spots to even sit down. It was so much fun seeing these two women in their seventies so excited to see the Pope. When we learned they hadn’t been able to secure any passes to later events, we gave them ours, which earned us a big hug, promises of prayers and some happy tears from their mother. We even took a big group picture with them.
Then, the real waiting began.
A couple hours into our seemingly never-ending wait, everyone in the crowd seemed to be going a little stir crazy. (There was a jumbotron at are location, but it was facing the opposite direction from where we were standing.) However, we found ways to pass the time. One group started a call-and-response cheer in Spanish with another Some people started cheering for the trash guys as they drove by, and, soon, everyone was cheering for anyone who went by like cops on horseback, a group of EMTs and a busload of cardinals. The biggest highlight for myself and most of the crowd during this stretch of time was seeing the empty Popemobile drive by. (We even caught a few glimpses of roof top snipers.)
Finally, after hours of waiting, Pope Francis finally came. He was preceded by several black Suburbans and highway patrol cops, his Popemobile all lit up and glowing in the night. I have to admit watching him whiz by was pretty incredible. Even though I was cold and sore, I found myself completely caught up in the moment as we snapped pictures and took videos (Due to scheduling conflicts, he flew by in order to get to the events at the Art Museum.)
And just like that, it was over.
The rest of the night was spent fight through crowds to get back to our train station followed by an over an hour wait for our train trading stories with some workers from SEPTA. One of them proudly wore a Pope blessed rosary around his neck, a gift from a Hawaiian passenger he had assisted earlier in the day.
Overall, the day was very exciting, I’m blessed to have been able to have been a part of it. I want to express my gratitude to all the volunteers, law enforcement officials, and SEPTA workers who made the event happen. Everyone was so kind and helpful, which made everything go much more smoothly and made the long periods of waiting more tolerable. Every question and request for assistance was met with a smile. Even thought the hours were long, both event workers and attendees remained in high spirits. It was amazing to see people of all ages from all walks of life come to together to celebrate their faith and the Church and to be in the presence of Pope Francis. This truly was one of those vents in my life I will always remember.