I came down to Philadelphia from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, on Friday to volunteer on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday and Sunday. I saw some of the best of Philadelphia on those days.
The unsung heroes of the weekend were the National Guard. This wasn’t a national emergency, but they were in good spirits even though they were pulling 12-hour watches with no overtime. I told some TV producers and personalities that they should recognize these stalwarts by encouraging Philly merchants to comp them lunch or dinner. I hope it had some results.
That being said, the people working in Center City stores and restaurants were friendly, helpful, courteous. I almost wanted to make them Scouts!
SEPTA personnel were unfailingly polite, but no one seemed to know for sure what was running. Resulting long walks were good for fall hiking preparation, but for out-of-town visitors, couldn’t they have put up a map showing what lines were running where? The SEPTA website had links to different rail and bus line information, but if you’re from out of town, you don’t even know what line runs where and, if only part of a line was running, which part. Giving a rundown by route number isn’t relevant if someone doesn’t know where that bus goes.
A hidden gem of the weekend: The absence of cars and aircraft made for not only a bicyclists’ wonderland, but also the silence of days gone by. Walking down the center of the streets gave you a better view of the architectural ornamentation at the top of many older buildings.
On Saturday, there were no giant crowds until later in the day. The pope, in his address on Independence Mall, had not just humor but a natural gift for timing and delivery. His words came as personal, warm, unscripted.
I was working 10- and 11-hour days. While I wouldn’t expect an event with huge crowds and loudspeakers going over well with kids, I never saw a child having a hiss, or being very crabby. I did see a number of adults have hissies, especially on Saturday, but not the kids!
Saturday and Sunday, some groups would burst into folk hymns and dances, joyous and celebratory, as they walked toward an event and as they walked away from.
Optimal weather on both days was a gift from the deity — warm, but not hot and overcast so people didn’t bake or get sunburned.
There was on most people’s faces a general sense of peace and a willingness to be open. I didn’t hear any tut-tutting that sometimes comes with discussion of Francis’ positions, or with not totally loving a particular performer. Radiant positivity was the order of the day, good cheer over sour.
Sunday showed how hard the city of Philadelphia was trying. They had the entire parkway swept clean of Saturday’s trash by Sunday morning! I was looking for a sample reserved seat ticket, and I couldn’t find any on the ground!
Sunday’s mass was a thing of beauty on many levels. While it was full of his compassion, and moral sternness about duties to the weak, in his short remarks at the end he again left a little room for humor.
I think a sloping venue would have been better, so everyone could see. On the positive side, no one had to do much uphill walking, and it was all relatively accessible.
The physical and emotional energy and intensity of this man, at age 78, should be an inspiration to all of us. I’ve read that as a young man he’d had pleurisy and needed lung surgery, which has left him soft spoken. Who knows, if he were able to bellow might he have a different sound? It can be a little tough at times to hear him, even with the great sound system and the crowd’s respectful silence. But his soft cadence added to his already substantial warmth.
Francis worked at least one miracle. He gave us a respite from headlines about what politician was saying nasty things and what the other 2016 candidates’ reactions were. (We still hear so little about what their policy proposals actually are.) I suppose we’ll soon be back to hearing what someone said about someone’s looks or some ethnic group. Francis’ lifestyle, substance and message were so antithetical to the baloney, it was wonderful.
For those who missed Francis’ public and televised appearances, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has video on demand. And the Vatican website has the transcript of his sermons and speeches as he delivered them (which will differ somewhat from the versions released in advance).
Peter Munsing is a personal injury lawyer in Reading, Pennsylvania.