Philly region preparing for holy sea of visitors when Pope Francis arrives

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Dozens of Catholic school students in uniform Thursday morning helped unveil plans for a mural to commemorate this fall’s papal visit as emergency officials in the region continue preparations for the more than 2 million people expected to descend on the city in late September. 

 

The mural is the result of a collaboration between the city’s Mural Arts Program and the World Meeting of Families, the weeklong conference drawing Pope Francis and multitudes of visitors. Artist Cesar Viveros will lead a series of community “paint days” to help complete his large design, which will span the entire facade of St. Malachy School at 11th and West Thompson streets.

Planning the mural is among the more enjoyable tasks Donna Crilley Farrell has taken on as executive director of the World Meeting of Families.

“Every day is filled with transportation meetings, security discussion, planning around our finances and the logistics of the papal visit and also, we are organizing a huge conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center,” Farrell said, noting there are exactly 116 days until the event begins.

With just three months left to plan, officials in Philadelphia and across the region are also quite busy.

Pope Francis’ visit was also the topic of a summit hosted Thursday by the Delaware County district attorney’s office. Officials from the FBI, the Pennsylvania State Police and other agencies gathered at Neumann University in Aston to talk about their preparations. 

“Doing the type of work I do, this is something that you basically live for and train for all your professional life,” said Lt. John Arnold who leads the Special Operations Division for SEPTA Transit Police.

Arnold said the transit agency has plans to deal with the swarms of people who will be thronging the public transportation system, including SEPTA ambassadors standing by to answer questions and keep the peace.

Agencies in the region have also been asking advice from other cities that have hosted big events — from presidential inaugurations to the World Cup soccer finals.

Lt. Danielle Wojnicki with the Philadelphia Fire Department acknowledged hosting the pope will be a huge test for the city compared with the Made in America concert and the Broad Street Run, which draw just tens of thousands of people.

“So it’s just going to be, logistically, do we have enough resources? Do we have enough equipment? Do we have enough medical supplies should people need them for the event?” she said.

Wojnicki says the city is already planning to give out a million bottles of water a day.

“I’m confident you’re going to be safe once you’re there. Our concern is just getting you to the venue safely,” said Tim Boyce, director of Homeland Security for the Delaware County district attorney’s office.

Visitors are expected to stay as far as 120 miles from Philadelphia, so the thing keeping Boyce up at night is the thought of busloads of people stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the suburbs — especially people who may need specialized care.

“We do expect a lot of people with health problems, with physical and mental impairments, to try to and see the pope,” he said. “As that group moves towards the area, how long can they sustain themselves?”

Boyce says it’s not too early for visitors to prepare themselves for watching the pope with 2 million others keeping them company.

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