The excitement in the Diocese of Wilmington of those planning bus trips to attend the public Mass that Pope Francis will celebrate in Philadelphia on Sept. 27 is building, but a lack of details from organizers is proving frustrating.
Up to 1.5 million people are expected to fill the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that Sunday afternoon, but the city of Philadelphia, the World Meeting of Families and the Secret Service have yet to release details about several key issues that concern folks who will attend, according to Barbara Willis of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the Diocese of Wilmington. Her group is sponsoring three buses that will depart from Salesianum School in Wilmington.
Willis said buses, which must be registered at a cost of $395 for the first one and $325 for subsequent buses – likely will have to park at the sports complex in South Philadelphia, where attendees would have to board a shuttle for a trip closer to the venue.
“I don’t want us to get there and have them tell us we can’t get on the buses. We’re bringing youth and their families,” Willis said.
On the World Meeting of Families website, those who are expecting to attend are advised to be prepared to walk “several miles.” Willis said this may prove difficult for some people who have signed up, including six nuns from New Orleans.
“Nobody can walk five miles,” said Willis, approximating the distance from the sports complex to the parkway.
Tom Cupples, who is organizing three buses that will leave from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bear, said taking a shuttle from South Philadelphia should be fine. He still doesn’t know when Seton’s buses will depart for Philadelphia, nor if people can bring drinks, chairs or small backpacks, because the organizers have not released enough information.
“I don’t want to criticize and say they’re slow getting it out,” he said.
Willis also has been unable to get information about what people will be able to bring inside a secure perimeter around the papal Mass area, which is expected to include a large section of the city.
Normal temperatures for late September are in the 70s, and the crowd is being advised to show up several hours before the afternoon Mass.
She sees little justification for the dearth of details about the event.
“This is something that’s been in progress for at least two years,” she said.
According to published reports, it’s anticipated that unopened plastic water bottles will be allowed, and there will be several refilling stations. Selfie sticks will not be allowed.
Seating will be limited and it’s unlikely that the Secret Service will allow people to bring their own chairs.
Willis has been to Vatican City twice, and she saw Pope John Paul II when he was in Philadelphia in 1979. For that visit, buses dropped people off near the Ben Franklin Parkway, but security measures have changed drastically, particularly since Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite the hurdles, Willis is enthusiastic about the chance to see Pope Francis. Nearly every conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the diocese will be represented. The youth who attend will wear matching t-shirts.
“I’m very excited, and the youth we have involved, they are excited,” Willis said.
Cupples said the group from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is also enthusiastic.
Seats on the parish buses were awarded via lottery, and there were far more requests than seats available. The parish will provide snacks and water on the bus, and, after Mass, a box lunch. They may have a prayer service at the church before boarding their buses.
“We tried to think of everything that needed to be included. As we get closer, we’ll put out a facts sheet,” he said.
The buses are just one way St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is celebrating the pope’s visit. The Mass will be televised at the church on a large screen, and that week, a group of organizations from the parish, led by its St. Vincent de Paul Society conference, will host the needy.
“The people who receive our outreach … are going to be invited to the church hall. All of the organizations in the parish are cooking them a big dinner, and they’re putting on a one-day carnival for them,” Cupples said.
Willis knows the pontiff’s schedule is pretty much set, but she is hopeful Pope Francis manages to spend some time with the poor while he is in town.
“As a Vincentian, the first thing we’re supposed to do is see the face of Jesus in people of need,” Willis said.
If the pope could manage to sneak in a home visit with a family in Philadelphia, “that would be something.”