Welcoming Pope Francis to Our Neighborhood
September 28, 2015
This past weekend, my neighborhood in Philadelphia had the privilege of hosting Pope Francis. The Pope’s outdoor mass took place roughly two city blocks from my house. What a momentous celebration!
Reporters and bloggers have already published hundreds of commentaries and thousands of pictures about his visit (see, for instance, this post by the inimitable Liz Spikol), so I won’t attempt to talk about the religious, social or political aspects. This essay offers a micro view, focusing on snapshots taken within one block of my house—some within a dozen steps of my front door—to show how we readied the place for the pontiff. I hope our way of honoring a great dignitary will become a model for other localities.
Because this was the largest National Special Security Event (NSSE) ever, we took extra care to make our little community safe and appropriate for the Pope and his million-odd admirers. To begin, we closed the streets to traffic and towed away any parked cars left behind:
We installed extra trash cans, and they were prettier than our usual ones:
We removed the mailbox, which might conceal bombs, weaponized hoagies or other dangerous objects:
We blocked access from side streets:
We also blocked the sidewalks of intersecting streets, leaving just enough room for pedestrians to squeeze through. This was to prevent terrorists from swooping in on golf carts or riding mowers:
We installed air-quality monitors to warn of chemical and radiation attacks (though some residents who tend to be gaseous worried about setting them off accidentally):
We set up checkpoints:
We placed sharpshooters on rooftops. (Sorry, no picture. You know what guys with high-powered rifles look like.)
We brought in large groups of friendly young men in camouflage uniforms:
We conducted constant surveillance from helicopters:
A little farther from our house, I spotted one low-flying Osprey, barely a hundred yards over the rooftops. This is an aircraft used only by the Marines and Air Force. Even the National Guard guys stared up at it in wonder, perhaps worried about its notorious crash record.
Of course we closed our schools and most of our small businesses. We detoured or stopped buses. To make room for the faithful, about half of our residents left town. Restaurants, if they stayed open, were empty.
Even the multigenerational Catholic family next door—a family that’s lived in the neighborhood for more than half a century—departed when they were unable to get tickets to the event. They planned to watch on TV from the Jersey shore.
So our neighborhood was all prepared to welcome Pope Francis. Proud of our efforts, we were ready to celebrate with him.
The only problem?
Our neighborhood wasn’t here anymore.