On September 26 and 27, the city of Philadelphia will be utterly transformed in preparation for the arrival of Pope Francis. Officials are expecting over 1.5 million visitors to the city. “We are hosting the largest event in the city’s history,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “Make no mistake, the City of Philadelphia will have the world’s attention, and we are doing our part to be as prepared and coordinated as possible.” Roads will be closed. Train schedules will be completely overhauled. The National Guard, Secret Service, Coast Guard, along with state, county, and local law enforcement will be on hand. Meanwhile, the region is celebrating the arrival of the head of Vatican City in every conceivable way, from paraphernalia to fake Pope androids.
Here’s everything you need to know to be prepared for the upcoming papal visit.
Part I: Logistics
The stop in Philadelphia is only a small part of his larger, inaugural trip to the United States. He will also be traveling to New York City and Washington D.C.
The Pope will arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday, Sept. 24. That evening he will do a prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (open only to the Clergy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral).
On Friday, Sept. 25, he will visit the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly. At 11:30 a.m., he will conduct a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center (ticket lottery closed).
At 4 p.m. Friday, he will visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem (open only to a select group of students and administrators from four Catholic schools in New York, and a gym full of Catholic Charities representatives)
He will also do a procession through Central Park (ticket lottery here) before a 6 p.m. Mass at Madison Square Garden. Tickets for the mass are reportedly very limited and not sold to the public; contact your own diocesan chancery office for more information.
Pope Francis will arrive at Philadelphia International Airport at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 26.
His first event in Philadelphia will be a 10:30 a.m. mass at Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, a historic church that has stood since 1864. It is the largest brownstone structure in Philadelphia. This mass is closed to the public.
Francis will then proceed to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, where he will meet with bishops at the chapel there. This event is also closed to the public.
His first public event will follow at Independence National Historical Park in center city Philadelphia, where he will give a speech on religious freedom and immigration.
He will conclude Saturday with an appearance at the Festival of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 7:30 p.m. There will be a variety of entertainment on hand, including musical and visual “high level performers,” according to the World Meeting of Families’ official site.
On Saturday evening, Francis will return to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary to sleep.
The next morning will be kicked off with another meeting with the bishops at the Seminary at 9:15 a.m.
At 11 a.m., as has been a trademark of his reign, Francis will visit prisoners at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in North Philadelphia. Prisoners there have already prepared a special chair for Francis as a gift.
At 4 p.m., the Pope will return to the Parkway to say the concluding mass for the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
He will then meet with organizers of the World Meeting briefly at 7 p.m., before boarding his return flight to Rome at 8 p.m.
For the Papal mass on Friday, Sept. 25 at Madison Square Garden, NJ Transit plans to run extra trains to New York and add buses bound for the Port Authority Bus terminal, according to nj.com. No special ticketing is needed, and the state Department of Transportation will not close eastbound roads to New York for the papal visit there.
SEPTA has been completely overhauled in preparation for the Pope’s arrival.
All passengers wishing to use Regional Rail to travel on the weekend of September 26-27 must purchase a special Papal pass. This pass is the only pass that will be accepted for travel over the weekend.
Passes cost $10 a day, and can be purchased at select SEPTA stations around the region. For a list of locations where passes can be picked up, please see the SEPTA website.
SEPTA’s regional rail will only depart from certain stations at certain times. Unless otherwise indicated, all other stations are closed. Here is a list of all stations operating departing trains, with the arrival station in parenthesis.
•Airport Line (Jefferson Station)
•Airport Line (University City Station)
•Chestnut Hill West Line (30th Street Station)
•Fox Chase Line (Jefferson)
•Lansdale/Doylestown – Ft. Washington (Jefferson)
•Lansdale/Doylestown – Pennbrook (Jefferson)
•Media/Elwyn – Media (University City)
•Media/Elwyn – Primos Station (University City)
•Paoli/Thorndale – Paoli Station (30th Street)
•Paoli/Thorndale – Radnor Station (30th Street)
•Trenton – Cornwells Heights (30th Street)
•Trenton – Levittown (30th Street)
•West Trenton (Jefferson)
•Wilmington/Newark – Wilmington Station (30th Street)
•Wilmington/Newark – Marcus Hook (30th Street)
To alleviate congestion, two travel time slots will depart for center city in the morning. Trains will begin leaving between 5:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and then again from 8:30 a.m. until noon. Cornwell Heights will only depart from 5:30 until 8:30, while Croydon will only leave from 8:30 a.m. until noon. Return service will be between 5:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.
There will be no service from center city to outlying stations during the morning travel period, and no service to center city from outlying stations in the evening travel period.
Buses and trolleys are also operating on modified schedules, in addition to the Norristown High Speed Line. See the full schedule on the SEPTA site.
During the weekend of Sept. 26 and 27, NJ Transit regular tickets will not be accepted and the agency will not be operating regular weekend service on either the Atlantic City Rail Line or the River Line. Special tickets went on sale beginning Saturday, Aug. 15 for people planning to ride the Atlantic City Rail Line and River Line as the routes will only operate on a limited schedule on both days.
Customers need to purchase their NJ Transit tickets in advance of this weekend. No one will be allowed to ride without a special event ticket and no tickets will be sold on Saturday, Sept. 26 or Sunday, Sept. 27. No other fares, including monthly passes, Family SuperSaver or cash, will be accepted on the Atlantic City Rail Line or River Line.
PATCO, which crosses from New Jersey into Philadelphia over the Ben Franklin Bridge, will also be operating a modified schedule.
Only special passes will be accepted to ride PATCO on September 26 and 27. One day passes are $5 and two day passes are $10. They can be purchased here.
PATCO will operate from four of its New Jersey stations:
•Broadway (Walter Rand Transportation Center)
And all service will run to only one Philadelphia station, at 9th/10th and Locust.
The most significant road closure during the Papal visit is the Ben Franklin Bridge. In addition, the following highways will be closed. These roads will close at 10 p.m. Friday and open at 12:00 a.m. Monday.
•I-676 in both directions from I-76 to I-95
•I-76 eastbound from I-476 to I-95
•I-76 westbound from I-95 to US Route 1
•US Route 1 in both directions from US Route 30 to Belmont Avenue (Pope Francis is staying overnight at Wynnewood’s at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary)
•I-95 will be open but certain ramps will be closed
Within the city itself, a “traffic box” surrounding center city and parts of University City has been established.
Cars will be able to travel inside the green lines below, but they will not be allowed to exit.
Meanwhile, significant traffic is expected on other major roads throughout the region that will remain open.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is working with officials to ensure that construction will not slow traffic in sensitive areas over the weekend.
Road closures and the huge influx of visitors will create severe traffic in the suburbs. Route 422 is one major road likely to be affected.
All residents and visitors are advised to avoid traveling by private vehicle, especially toward the city, whenever possible on September 26 and 27.
Montgomery County announced on August 23 that 600 National Guard troops had been requested for the weekend of September 26 and 27.
The personnel, requested from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, will help with traffic control, crowd control, and infrastructure security.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Montgomery County and its residents to experience something as important and inspirational as a Papal visit,” Josh Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, said in a press release. “The eyes of the world will be on our region, and I am confident that the long term benefits of Pope Francis’ visit will far outweigh the temporary inconveniences we might face. Our entire Public Safety Department and all of their local and regional partners have worked hard to help ensure inconveniences are minimized and safety is maximized.”
In addition, the county has asked for helicopters, boats, refueling trucks, and other personnel to assist the Joint Rapid Response Teams and other supporting teams working to keep both motorists and those on boats safe.
The county’s Bomb Squad has also been training in anticipation of the weekend, and the Secret Service is organizing security in the city.
In New Jersey, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is taking the lead as “incident command,” according to nj.com, but the Secret Service has been tasked with protecting the Pope, with help from the FBI and New Jersey State Police. Partnerships have also extended to Burlington, Gloucester and Salem counties in planning for emergency situations that could occur.
The City of Philadelphia has launched a hotline to help area businesses prepare for the big weekend in September.
The Philadelphia Department of Commerce has launched a hotline that will be available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to p.m. The hotline is available via phone at 215-683-2100 and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other questions can be answered at the city’s information center for the Pope’s visit, here.
A Pope has not visited Philadelphia since Pope John Paul II came here in 1979.
He spent time at Logan Circle, the Convention Center, and the Civic Center, saying mass and speaking to the crowd. He also visited a shrine in Doylestown.
Like Francis, John Paul visited the historic Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and said mass there. Over a million people were present.
Francis’ visit in 2015 is of huge cultural and historical significance, and the Philadelphia region is sparing no effort in an opulent display of pageantry.