With the historic visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia imminent, here are 10 items to keep in mind, whether you attend the events Sept. 26 and 27 in person or watch from home.
1. What to bring (a cannoli), what to leave (a gun): Do NOT bring the following items when you pack for what may be a 12-hour day away from home: Aerosols; ammunition; animals, except for service animals; backpacks and bags exceeding 18″ x 13″ x 7″; balloons; bicycles; drones; explosives, firearms, or weapons; glass, thermal, or metal containers; hard-sided coolers (soft-sided thermal coolers are allowed); laser pointers; mace or pepper spray; packages; selfie sticks; signs exceeding 5′ x 3′ x 1/4″ made of any material except cardboard, poster board, or cloth; structures; supports for signs and placards; toy guns.
Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweatshirt or light jacket since it will turn cool at night. Rain is a possibility, so pack a cheap plastic poncho to wear just in case. One can fold up into pocket-size. Be sure your cell phone is fully charged.
2. If you’re taking a train: You likely already have your special one-day passes for each day, and know which of the 18 designated stations you will use. Plan to arrive at your station very early because although the stations offer the most parking of any of the Regional Rail stations, and some 32,000 extra spaces are being made available in the local communities, parking spaces will be taken quickly. See a map of the SEPTA system in which you can click on a station to learn parking information.
There are two parking alternatives: Get a ride from a friend to a station or consider Popebus.com, a service that will utilize school buses to take passengers from more than 50 park-and-ride lots located on many major highways throughout the region to the designated train stations, for a fee. Visit the website for fees and park-and-ride locations.
3. Getting on the train: SEPTA agents at each of the 18 designated stations will set up zones for an organized boarding procedure, first-come, first served, according to your preselected travel time. Watch for signs that indicate estimated waiting times for boarding and travel times.
4. Where to walk: Philadelphia is a walkable city, and you will put that axiom to the test this weekend. All the streets from the South Philadelphia parking area to the subway stations, and from all streets to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, are flat, wide and mostly devoid of cars. Distances to the events on the parkway are manageable for most; for example, it is one mile from the Broad and Locust Subway Station to 20th Street and the parkway, the edge of the ticketed zone.
5. Pick a spot: Bring a blanket to sit on or a simple, collapsible chair, and something to do (cards, a book) for the several hours before Pope Francis arrives. On the other hand, enjoy the opportunity to explore the Francis Festival Grounds — a large swath of streets for pedestrians only. You may never again have such freedom to walk the streets and meet people from every land and tongue.
And be in place near the barriers along the parkway before the pope’s motorcade on Saturday takes him slowly from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, down one side of the parkway to City Hall and back up the other side finally to Eakins Oval; the route on Sunday will be shorter. Welcome the holy father to Philadelphia as he passes by you, feet away.
6. Time to eat: Inevitably, you’ll want to grab a bite, so look for the “I’ll be there” signs in shop windows that are open for business. Wawa convenience stores, thankfully, are providing bottled water throughout the Francis Festival Grounds. Speaking of the inevitable, hundreds of portable toilets are placed abundantly throughout the parkway area — look for banks of the green or blue “facilities.”
7. What’s the score? The Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Jets Sunday at 1 p.m. in northern New Jersey, and it should be ended by the time of the 4 p.m. papal Mass. Tune your radio or use a smartphone to listen at 94 FM WYSP. The Phillies enter their final week of baseball on Sunday with a road game in Washington against the Nationals; the game is on 1210 AM WPHT.
8. Get involved: If you go to the papal Mass, sing the hymns as best you can and join in the prayers of the liturgy. Reflect on the Word of God. Receive holy Communion with reverence, and pause in the silence of your heart, despite all the activity of thousands around you, in thanksgiving for Christ in the Eucharist and all the blessings of your life.
9. Be patient: People will be coming into the city all morning and afternoon each day, but leaving largely at the same time. The Festival of Families will conclude around 10 p.m., the Sunday papal Mass around 6:30 p.m. It will take time to leave the parkway area, time to board transportation, and time to arrive home, so take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the sight of a fall in Philadelphia.
10. Sitting this one out? If you’re not coming into center city, join a local parish celebration. If you’re going to stay at home, enjoy the comfy seat, but do something extra. This weekend, set aside time for prayer, especially in the Sunday liturgy. Pray for the intentions of Pope Francis. Pray for families. Pray that communities everywhere also may experience the kind of joy and unity that is present in Philadelphia this weekend.
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