Pope In Philly: FAQ

 In this photo taken on Sunday, July 12, 2015, Pope Francis waves as he boards the plane back to Rome, in Asuncion, Paraguay. Pope Francis departed after a week long trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

In this photo taken on Sunday, July 12, 2015, Pope Francis waves as he boards the plane back to Rome, in Asuncion, Paraguay. Pope Francis departed after a week long trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

So the pope is coming to Philadelphia. What DO we know… and what DON’T we know (yet) about the big event? Here’s our guide to #PopeInPhilly.


So this World Meeting of Families…what is it, when is it and how many people are coming?

When is Pope Francis coming to Philadelphia? How many people are coming to see him?

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Where can I see the pope? What is Pope Francis’ schedule?

Do I need a ticket to see Pope Francis?

What is the security plan for the papal visit? Will there be an 8-foot fence around Center City?

What’s the deal with this “traffic box” around Center City and West Philly?

Will there be travel restrictions during the World Meeting of Families Congress?

Which highways and bridges will be closed and when?

What are the transportation details for the weekend of the papal visit? (SEPTA, PATCO, NJ Transit)

Which SEPTA subway stations will be open?

Where can I walk during the papal weekend?

How early can I access the Parkway to get my spot for Sunday’s papal Mass?

Is there anything I CANNOT bring to papal events?

So this World Meeting of Families … what is it, when is it and how many people are coming?


The World Meeting of Families (WMOF) is a Catholic conference put on every three years by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. It was the brainchild of Pope John Paul II, who wanted to “strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe.” The event centers around the notion that marriage and the traditional family structure are inherently beneficial to society. The first worldwide gathering of families and clergy was held in Rome in 1994. The event has since traveled to cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Valencia, Mexico City and Milan.

The WMOF begins with a four-day conference or “congress” and ends with a two-day visit from the pontiff.

This year’s World Meeting of Families Congress will be held Tuesday, Sept. 22, through Friday, Sept. 25, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City Philadelphia. The theme is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive” and includes presentations by leaders from other faiths, including a Baptist minister and Mormon elder. There will also be a Youth Congress.

About 17,000 people are registered to attend the conference. Right now, the largest numbers of registrants are from the U.S., Canada, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria.

When is Pope Francis coming to Philadelphia? How many people are coming to see him?


Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia from the morning of Saturday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 27th. At that point, the World Meeting of Families Conference will be over, but many registrants will stay for the papal events.

This will be Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. He arrives in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, spending two days there and then one day in New York City.

The papal Mass on Sunday, Sept. 27 is the biggest open-to-the-public event of his American visit, so Philadelphia is bracing for a flood of visitors. The city estimates between 1.5 and 2 million people could come, although sources involved in planning say there’s no way to tell just how many people will show up.

Where can I see the pope? What is Pope Francis’ schedule?


What we know

Pope Francis will appear at three outdoor public events:

He’ll give a speech on immigration in front of Independence Hall on Saturday afternoon.
He’ll attend the Festival of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Saturday evening.
He’ll return to the Parkway on Sunday to celebrate Mass at 4 p.m.

The pontiff will also visit inmates at the city’s largest prison, Curran-Fromhold, in Northeast Philadelphia, meet with priests-in-training at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Merion, and celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Center City for an invite-only crowd of 1,600 people.

It’s traditional for pontiffs to stay with the local archbishop. In this case that means Pope Francis will be crashing with Archbishop Charles Chaput at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Read more about Pope Francis’ Philly itinerary, 
which was released on July 1.

What We Don’t Know

How to score an invite to be one of the 1,600 at that Mass at the Basilica. Being a good Catholic and/or knowing someone picking the attendees could help!

There may be opportunities to line the route as Pope Francis’ motorcade rides by as he travels from one event to the next. We’ll be sure to update this FAQ with suggestions for vantage points if more details on routes and security precautions become clear.

Do I need a ticket to see Pope Francis?


Yes and no.

To get a prime seat at the Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis Sept. 27 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, you’re going to need a ticket — the Parkway from 20th Street to the Art Museum is reserved for ticket-holders only.

Eighty-five percent of the Parkway will be open to the public, according to a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Only ticket-holders will be able to attend the Sept. 26 event when the pontiff will speak in front of Independence Hall. 

What is the security plan for the papal visit? Will there be an 8-foot fence around Center City?


What We Know:

Because Pope Francis is a head of state (Vatican City is an independent city-state, separate from Italy), the feds have designated his visit a “special security event.” In other words, the U.S. Secret Service is running the show, along with several state and local agencies. Plans have been in the works since last year.

The city has released the dimensions of a three-square-mile “traffic box” where cars will be barred from entering starting Friday night through Sunday of “pope weekend.” The box will help will protect the large number of people who will be walking through the city.

On Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 p.m., the Secret Service will establish a “secure vehicle perimeter,” a smaller area within the “traffic box” where all private vehicles will be completely banned. There will be no driving or on-street parking allowed. The secure vehicle perimeter stretches from the Art Museum to Independence Mall. At that time, the Secret Service will also erect a “secure perimeter” around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway – think “fence” with security checkpoints where everyone entering much pass through a magnetometer.

The Secret Service will erect a second secure perimeter (fence) around Independence Mall on Friday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m.

The black lines on the map below show the “secure vehicle perimeter” and the red lines show the two “secure perimeters.” The green lines are the “traffic box.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 9.41.10 AM

The secure perimeters will open to pedestrians starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26. Lines to go through magnetometers are expected to be long.

Following Pope Francis’ speech at Independence Hall at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, screening will no longer be required for pedestrians, but cars will still be banned.

What’s the deal with this “traffic box” around Center City and West Philly?


It’s a three-square-mile area where cars can leave, but cannot enter starting at 6 p.m. in Center City Friday, Sept. 25 through Sunday, Sept. 27. The restrictions will go into effect in West Philadelphia at 10 p.m. Friday.

The traffic box, recently rebranded as the “Francis Festival Grounds,” will dissolve sometime on Monday, Sept. 28. The city has not said when it will dissolve. 

Taxis will be allowed to move in and out of the traffic box until 2 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26. So, for example, if you’re arriving late Friday night from the airport or need to get to the train to leave town for the weekend, you’ll be able to get a taxi within the traffic box until 2 a.m. Saturday.

Taxi stands will be set up within the traffic box to provide service to those leaving from or returning to the city starting at 3 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 28.

So, between 2 a.m. on Saturday and 3 a.m. on Monday, you won’t be able to get a taxi within the “traffic box.”

Here are the boundaries of the box:

North: Spring Garden St. to Ridge Ave., Ridge Ave, to Girard Ave., Girard Ave. to the Schuylkill River

South: South St. from the Schuylkill River to the Delaware River

East: Delaware Ave. from South St. to Spring Garden St.

West: Runs along the edge of the Schuylkill River, cuts up Kelly Drive, stopping just below the Girard Ave. BridgeScreen Shot 2015-08-06 at 3.59.05 PM

Yes, you CAN drive within the traffic box, but once you drive out of that zone, you will not be able to drive back in. You’ll also be allowed to walk and/or ride your bike in the box.

And don’t worry — the city has designated special access roads for emergency vehicles only.

Will there be travel restrictions during the World Meeting of Families Congress?


What We Know:

SEPTA will operate normal service during the World Meeting of Families Congress on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 23 starting with the beginning of the service day, bus and trolley routes will operate on a weekday schedule with select detours in the vicinity of the Parkway.

On Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 p.m. the following stations will close: Suburban Station (Regional Rail), 15th Street (MFL and Trolley), 5th Street (MFL) and City Hall (BSL).

Thursday evening service will not be impacted but customers will not be able to board orexit from those stations including the Transit Entrance at Dilworth Park.

On Friday, Sept. 25, the above listed stations will remain closed. Regular weekday service will operate on the Broad Street & Market Frankford Lines. Late night train service on Market Frankford and Broad Street Lines, MFO/BSO Owl Bus service, and Owl Service on the trolley routes will not operate

Regional Rail will operate on a special Saturday Schedule with the following changes and enhancements:

Service Day on Regional Rail will begin at 6:00 a.m. except for the Airport Line
No service to/from Suburban Station
Limited Wilmington/Newark service to Newark and Churchmans Crossing
Limited Cynwyd Line service will operate with trains going to Jefferson Station
Friday at 6 p.m., additional bus detours and route alterations will begin as perimeters in Center City are established for the Francis Festival Grounds
Friday at 10 p.m. Bus detours for routes operating in West Philadelphia between 29th and 38th Streets go into effect

Where can I walk during the papal weekend?


The Secret Service, alongside local and state authorities, released a walking map with recommended routes for pilgrims to get to and from papal events on Sept. 26 and 27. Security points for each event were also released, with a note telling those in attendence to leave extra time to make it through the security checkpoints.

Here’s a look at the map, and click here for a full breakdown of the recommended routes. Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 3.05.05 PM

Which highways and bridges will be closed and when?


The following highways will be closed starting Friday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m.:

I-76 eastbound from I-476 to I-95

I-76 westbound from I-95 to US-1

I-676 both directions from I-76 to I-95

US – 1 both directions from US Rt. 30 to Belmont Ave.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge will also be closed to private vehicles starting at 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25 through Monday, Sept. 28 at 12 p.m. Emergency vehicles and pedestrians will be allowed to cross. It is a five-mile walk from Camden across the bridge to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Yes, I-95 will be open, but selected ramps will be closed. 

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has annouced it expects the following roads to be affected by increased traffic due to surrounding road closures: I-295, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Atlantic City Expressway as well as Routes 1, 38, 42, 45, 47, 55, 70, 73, 90, 130, 168 and 322.

What are the transportation details for the weekend of the papal visit? 


What We Know:

DON’T plan on driving. DO take public transportation, but plan ahead and wear your walking shoes. There will be MAJOR restrictions on vehicular travel within Philadelphia the weekend Pope Francis visits. Besides, parking will be a nightmare.

All private and commercial buses (RV, passenger van, motor coach, school bus or mini bus) traveling to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis must register through the GO GROUND portal. Buses will park at a to-be-determined location that attendees will be expected to walk from. Buses that have registered will be permitted to access restricted roadways and off ramps, including I- 76 during the papal weekend.

SEPTA is making big changes to the normal weekend regional rail schedule. To move as many as 2 million people in and out of town, only 18 Regional Rail stations will be open for service.Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.49.22 PM

SEPTA trains will pick up passengers heading in one direction INTO the city. Later, trains will bring passengers back OUT.

The passes will allow you to board at one station only and depending on that station, you will be dropped off at Jefferson Station, 30th Street Station or University City Station. Your pass will also indicate a time slot for you to get on the train.

After an extensive online lottery process, SEPTA began in-person sales of SEPTA papal passes on August 21. Passes will be sold at specific stations only. As of Sept. 1, less than 200,000 passes are available.

Each pass is valid only for certain stations. Regular trailpasses and tickets will not be accepted. The passes are sold by day — Saturday, Sunday or both. 

Altogether, 350,000 passes have been put up for sale — 175,000 for each day of the papal visit.

Once you depart a SEPTA station in Center City, be prepared to walk. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says it could be a two-mile hike for some to get from a SEPTA station to the event sites.

On your way out of the city, your pass will only allow you board at the station you were dropped off at.

SEPTA will also sell three-day transit passes for the Philadelphia subways, trolleys and the El. Tokens and regular tranpasses will also be accepted.

Inside the city, many bus routes are being suspended or detoured due to the traffic box. Twenty-eight city and suburban routes are suspended for the weekend, plus the 10 trolley. septa-bus-service-during-papal-visit.752.430.s

Additionally, a number of routes will operate with regular weekend schedules, meaning increased frequency compared to a usual weekend, as will Trolley Routes 11, 13, 14, 15, 34 and 36.

Notably, southbound Routes 2, 33, 23 and 47 will truncate at Broad and Cecil B. Moore Streets, allowing passengers to then transfer to the Broad Street Line to continue further on to the Walnut-Locust street station.

More details on SEPTA’s plans and where you can buy tickets

If you’re travelling from the Garden State, PATCO will stop only at the Ninth/10th-Locust station in Philadelphia and the Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue, and Broadway stations in New Jersey.

More details on PATCO’s plans

If you plan on using NJ Transit, special tickets will be needed to travel on the the Atlantic City Rail Line and the RiverLINE light rail service. 

On Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Sept. 27, the Atlantic City Rail Line will be express only between Atlantic City and Philadelphia. Trains will depart Atlantic City beginning at 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and will operate approximately hourly for most of the day. Roundtrip tickets will be $30. After the events are over, return trips will leave the city on a “load and go” basis.

The RiverLINE will operate on a 15-minute schedule on Saturday and Sunday in both directions between Trenton and Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden with no service in downtown Camden between WRTC and the Entertainment Center.

Once events in Philadelphia are underway, the RiverLINE will shift to a 30-minute schedule.

Special tickets are needed for the RiverLINE as well and must be purchased in advance. The cost of the ticket is $5 and can only be used during time periods specified on the ticket.

Stops along the RiverLINE will be limited to just Trenton, Bordentown, Florence, Burlington South, Pennsauken Route 73, Pennsauken Transit Center and WRTC.

On Thursday and Friday, buses will run regularly- scheduled weekday service on routes in the Philadelphia/Camden area. Once the Ben Franklin Bridge closes to vehicular traffic, all Philadelphia bus routes will be truncated at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden but will remain on schedule for trips outbound from the Camden area.

Access Link, NJ Transit’s ADA-paratransit service, to and from Philadelphia will be suspended on Friday, September 25 following the closure of the Ben Franklin Bridge, through Monday, September 28, and will resume regular reservation service on Tuesday, September 29. On Saturday, September 26, and Sunday, September 27, all service in and out of Camden County will be suspended.

More details on NJ Transit’s plans

Which SEPTA subway stations will be open?


The Market Frankford line will stop at 69th Street, 60th Street, 52nd Street, 34th Street, 30th Street, 8th Street, 2nd Street, Girard, Huntingdon, Alleghany, Erie-Torresdale, the Arrott Transportation Center and the Frankford Transportation Center.

Market-Frankford Line - Papal Visit

The Broad Street Line will stop at AT&T, Synder, Walnut-Locust, Spring Garden, Cecil B. Moore, North Philadelphia, Eerie, Olney and Fern Rock Transportation Center.

Broad Street Line - Papal Visit

How early can I access the Parkway to get my spot for Sunday’s papal Mass?


What We Know:

Don’t plan on camping out the night before. The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that will not be allowed.

What We Don’t Know:

Officials have not yet announced what time the Parkway will open to visitors, but it will probably be early so that everyone has time to go through security checkpoints. Again, the U.S. Secret Service is in charge. It will not release details until at least three weeks before Pope Francis arrives.

Is there anything I CANNOT bring to papal events?


Here’s the full list of what is not allowed at papal events, released on Sept. 2 by the Secret Service:

Animals other than service dogs/guide animals
Backpacks and bags exceeding size limits (13″x18″x7″)
Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
Glass, thermal or metal containers
Laser pointers
Mace/pepper spray
Selfie sticks
Signs exceeding the size limitations (5′ x 3′ x .25″) made of anything but cloth, cardboard or posterboard
Supports for signs or placards
Toy guys
Weapons of any kind
Any other items deemed to be a potential safety hazard


The World Meeting of Families has put together a “Papal Visit Playbook” designed to help Philadelphia residents get ready for the holy sea of visitors to their city.

This list was last updated Sept. 16.

Got questions about the papal visit? Let us know. We’ll get them answered for you. Write one in the comments section below, email kcolaneri@whyy.org, or tweet her.


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