History was made on in September, as Pope Francis visited the city of Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Conference, the largest meeting of Catholic families in the world.
The event hosted speakers, discussions and workshops at the Philadelphia Convention Center from Sept. 22-25, but the real events began the weekend of the 26th, which marked the beginning of the “Francis Festival.” The pope came during this time to speak at Independence Hall and take part in the Festival of Families. He also visited with local organizations, including the bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel and inmates at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
The main event for most Philadelphians, though, was the delivering of a Mass to thousands of people along the Benjamin Franklin parkway on Sunday evening. For the thousands in attendance, many of whom traveled great distances, the Papal parade before the Mass began was a sight to behold.
“He stopped along [the Parkway] to kiss a bunch of babies,” said local Catholic Aaron Gross, who attended the public Mass. “It was really funny. There was a segment where there were just secret service guys passing babies back and forth between the crowd and the Pope.”
Pope Francis, known for his personable attitude and more progressive Catholic attitudes, then delivered a homily on being kind to each other. “He gave a really good homily,” Gross said. “The gist was getting along with others and setting aside our differences.”
“The city did a great job of preparing, in my opinion. There were plenty of police, firefighters, and of course, medical staff,” said Samantha Rogers, a volunteer at a medical tent for the Pope festivities. Rogers expressed her opinion that the event was a success: “There were so many people, and they were all so happy. It went smoothly…or at least as smoothly as could be expected.”
The Mass acted as a finale to the Pope’s appearance in the city, after which he departed to return to Rome.
Though not everyone was as pleased as they could have been with the papal visit. For many businesses and officials, the visit was a chance to boost the local economy; tourists and visitors meant people staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and shopping at local stores. For these hopefuls, the turnout was less than ideal. Official statistics have yet to be released, but “unofficial estimates” tally up the crowds on Sunday as being about 860,000 strong, far short of the projected millions of pilgrims.
Mayor Nutter, disappointed with the negative feelings of locals regarding the event, was quick to blame the media. He pointed to the projections and the reports of barricades, road closures, and security measures. Many attendees also expressed displeasure at the situation, with problems including limited transportation and
Despite this, the event was still declared a success. Mayor Nutter described it as “Philadelphia at its best”, and “a tremendous honor”.