The World Meeting of Families takes place just once every three years, but this year will be like no other. The world’s largest gathering of Catholics is to be held in Philadelphia this year, and ever since that location was announced in February, all attention has been on the promised attendance of one important guest: Pope Francis.
Appointed in March 2013, Pope Francis has frequently surprised people with his non-traditional stances on hot-button political issues. He was named TIME magazine’s person of the year in 2013, and joined Twitter with the handle @Pontifex. He has also given speeches regarding pressing issues like abortion, the environment, and immigration.
“He’s challenging people to think outside the box and have more conversation, and that’s a good thing,” said Upper School Director Justin Brandon. He and Assistant Head of School Chris Kimberly both encourage students to look at how this ‘Modern People’s Pope’ is doing things in a brand new way.
Massive crowds are anticipated for the Pope’s visit, prompting the city of Philadelphia to implement major roadway closures as security measures. I-76 will be closed from I-476 to I-95, and the Ben Franklin Bridge will be open only to pedestrians. Center City and West Philadelphia will become a “Pope Traffic Box,” a no-return zone where cars will have limited movement.
“Six teachers are directly affected by the box or bridge closures, and many of those six plan to stay with friends or family in New Jersey,” says Assistant Head of School Chris Kimberly. Those unable to get to school Friday or Monday may use one of their two personal days off, said Kimberly. The school also considering having a third “Pope Personal Day” added but decided against it because many teachers had made accommodations. He did add that the school “[is] not anticipating many students to be affected.”
MFS Athletic Director Danielle Dayton said that weekend sports practices should be unaffected. Mr. Brandon emphasized that students must be “flexible” when making their Monday morning commute.
The official traffic measures are only based in Philadelphia, but the effects are likely to reach as far into New Jersey as Route 70 and Route 38, popular car and bus routes to MFS. Cherry Hill Township released its own security measures, warning that due to PATCO’s Woodcrest train option (1 of the 3 ways to get into the city during the visit), traffic will most likely be unbearable on those roads. Detours have been set up to improve traffic flow. Those trying to avoid Route 38 and 70 will take I-295, where all outbound Philadelphia traffic will be directed.
The Pope’s itinerary will include a speech at Independence Hall, a visit to a Philadelphia prison (another display of his modern take), and two parades. The main event is Sunday Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway, where 2 million people are expected to attend. A combined 20,000 tickets for the ticketed viewing area were purchased in a mere thirty seconds.
Commented Mr. Brandon, “Expect the unexpected; this is once in a lifetime.”