PHILADELPHIA – With Pope Francis set to arrive in Philadelphia on Saturday, many schools, offices and businesses closed Friday. That left the downtown streets to police and National Guardsmen, prayerful Catholics — many from other places — and vendors hawking pope hats, pope buttons, pope T-shirts, pope bobble heads and small flags bearing the seal of Vatican City.
Security is tight in the City of Brotherly Love, with barricades and fences closing off many streets and National Guardsmen in Army fatigues directing car and pedestrian traffic. City buses are shortening their usual routes, and cab companies are starving for passengers.
“I hope it is a positive thing for the city,” taxi driver Adrien Jacques said Friday about the pope’s visit, “but closing everything down is hurting my business.”
Still, there was a palpable sense of anticipation Friday as some street corners were outfitted with giant video boards that will carry images of the popular pope during a Sunday mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway — the high point of Francis’ two-day trip to Philadelphia.
Tselaine, an accessory boutique and gift shop, had sold out of $28 pope bobble heads by Friday.
As many as 1 million people are expected to attend mass, though all the talk about street closings, security and long lines could cut the turnout some among Philadelphians. But 10,000 busloads of Catholic pilgrims have been streaming in from all over the country. And Catholics from all over the world have been in the city all week attending the World Meeting of Families at the Philadelphia Convention Center.
On Friday, a group of about 30 Hispanic Catholics from the Cathedral Chapel of St. Vibiana in Los Angeles paraded up 20th Street reciting the rosary in unison.
“It’s a pilgrimage to see this pope. He’s sent by God,” said Janet Mendez, a member of the group. “Everything he has said in the United States, like to Congress, has definitely been God-sent.”