by Sue Ann Rybak
I was just 9 years old the first time a pope came to Philadelphia. I remember watching Pope John Paul II on TV. He was in the Popemobile waving to throngs of people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The year was 1979.
At the time, I attended St. Michael Archangel School in Levittown, and for weeks everyone had been preparing for his visit. As a child growing up in a Catholic, Italian family, I knew this was a big deal. While I do remember being captivated by the Pope, I don’t remember the city shutting down to accommodate his visit, and I definitely don’t remember getting a day off from school.
We are less than 40 days away from Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. And instead of being excited, I am dreading the chaos it’s going to cause. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Pope or that I don’t have profound respect for him. I do. To be honest, I am deeply disappointed that my mother-in-law won’t be able to attend. (All that walking and chaos will be too much for her.)
On the other hand, I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with it. Honestly, I think it’s overkill. I feel as if the city is being held captive by the Pope, who has nothing to do with the security measures. I am sure Mayor Nutter has little control over what the Secret Service and Homeland Security deem “necessary.”
I have friends who live in the three-and-a-half-square-mile traffic box that runs from the Delaware River to 38th Street and from Girard Avenue, down Ridge Avenue, and then across Spring Garden Street, south to South Street. People who are in the box when it closes will be allowed to drive within the box but won’t be able to leave the secure area.
If you live in the traffic box, how are you supposed to get to work? You can’t drive your car out of the box or even park on the street. And good luck taking public transportation.
I have a friend who is physically handicapped and depends on nursing assistants to help him bathe, go shopping or cook a meal. He feels as if he is being held prisoner in his own home. He has two choices: he can leave or be held captive.
Sadly, the people the Pope advocates for the most – the homeless, the poor, the elderly, and the sick – are the least likely to see the Pope. While attempts are being made to give special access to homeless people for the papal Mass, there is no definitive plan for where the homeless will go to eat and sleep, especially since most of the shelters or soup kitchens are located near the Parkway.
At least we’re not busing them out of the area – yet. And you don’t see any effort to bus in the homeless, the mentally ill or the poor.
Don’t worry. If you have the means, you can rent a hotel room downtown, dine at one of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants and buy tons of Pope memorabilia. I got an email the other day from an online Catholic store, urging me to preorder a Pope Francis bobblehead while it’s on sale for only $19.99 or to buy a plush Pope doll.
Most Philadelphians I know are planning to stay as far away from the chaos as possible. Ironically, my Catholic parish even planned a Confirmation retreat for my kids on the day the Pope is visiting. Needless to say, that’s another story. I just hope that the city I love doesn’t get so caught up in making money to benefit the city that we forget we are the City of Brotherly Love. The people hired to protect the Pope might want to listen to his words and not let fear, greed and consumerism direct their actions.