Did Philadelphia Take Security Measures Too Far for Pope’s Visit?

People walk toward a security checkpoint before entering an area under tighter security to attend Pope Francis events on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Michael Perez, AP)
People walk toward a security checkpoint before entering an area under tighter security to attend Pope Francis events on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Michael Perez, AP)

by Rem Rieder

It was an eerie way to start the day.

At 3 a.m., I started the trek from my Center City Philadelphia hotel to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where I would catch the bus to the airport to watch Pope Francis’ arrival in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday morning.

It was still dark, of course, and it had the look of a war zone. There were barricades everywhere. There were security checkpoints. There were fences making some streets completely inaccessible. And everywhere there were police, and TSA agents, and all other flavors of law enforcement personnel.

Hours later, I was at Philadelphia International Airport, where delighted students from the band from Bishop Shanahan in suburban Downingtown serenaded the pope with the theme from Rocky and Don’t Stop Believin‘. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I’m so excited,” one of them, piccolo player Kristen Loughlin, told me.

And there you have it, the two sides of the Philadelphia pope coin. It is a wonderful opportunity for people, from the city and the suburbs to all across the nation and beyond, to experience firsthand a pope who has electrified the world with his humanity, his humility and his love. His very presence was another step, an important one, in Philly’s impressive progress toward becoming a world class city.

It was an eerie way to start the day.

At 3 a.m., I started the trek from my Center City Philadelphia hotel to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where I would catch the bus to the airport to watch Pope Francis’ arrival in the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday morning.

It was still dark, of course, and it had the look of a war zone. There were barricades everywhere. There were security checkpoints. There were fences making some streets completely inaccessible. And everywhere there were police, and TSA agents, and all other flavors of law enforcement personnel.

Hours later, I was at Philadelphia International Airport, where delighted students from the band from Bishop Shanahan in suburban Downingtown serenaded the pope with the theme from Rocky and Don’t Stop Believin‘. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I’m so excited,” one of them, piccolo player Kristen Loughlin, told me.

And there you have it, the two sides of the Philadelphia pope coin. It is a wonderful opportunity for people, from the city and the suburbs to all across the nation and beyond, to experience firsthand a pope who has electrified the world with his humanity, his humility and his love. His very presence was another step, an important one, in Philly’s impressive progress toward becoming a world class city.

While there is no shortage of people who are either sublimely happy about the Popefest or busy grumbling about the lockdown, Ray Ullrich perfectly encapsulates the ambivalence about what’s happening.

“There’s no doubt it’s an inconvenience,” says Ullrich, a stonemason who lives in the city’s Northern Liberties section. “I understand it’s better to overcompensate than undercompensate, but they really did overcompensate quite a bit.”

That said, he adds, “It’s only a weekend. We’ll bitch and moan. But nothing (bad) will happen (to the pope). That’s good.” He likens it to the city being shut down by a big snowstorm.

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SOURCE: USA Today