News reports about extensive security in place for Pope Francis’ visit may have deterred people from attending, the mayor said Monday, while calling the weekend a “tremendous success” overall.
The pope’s trip to Philadelphia for the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families spurred intense traffic and security restrictions. Concrete and steel barricades lined downtown streets, and some people reported waiting in lines at metal detectors for more than five hours.
Organizers said they expected at least a million people for Sunday’s Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Neither they nor the city provided a final crowd count Monday. Hotel occupancy and train ridership was lower than expected, and some areas of the parkway had ample room.
Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters: “You all scared the s— out of people.” He called reporting in the lead up to the pontiff’s visit “detrimental to the mindset of many Philadelphians and others.”
Nutter later apologized for what he called his “intemperate remark” and said he expected “a timely and terse” admonishment from his mother.
Nutter, in an assessment that was mostly upbeat aside from the moment of foul language, also blamed a lack of communication between Philadelphia and its neighbors. Last month, New Jersey officials put out a map showing walks to papal events taking up to seven hours.
He said dribs of information that came out over the summer — like a suggestion that Interstate 95, a major route through the city, would close — didn’t help, either.
“Those were not our finest moments in all of this,” he said.
But Nutter called Francis’ two-day visit to the city a tremendous success and spoke emotionally about how much he was moved by the opportunity to present his Catholic mother and aunt with front-row tickets to the papal Mass.
He said issues that arose, like long lines at security checkpoints and complaints from businesses that security restrictions kept away customers, would be addressed in a forthcoming report.
Heightened security for the visit turned much of downtown Philadelphia into a fortified and largely deserted pedestrian mall, with concrete barriers, steel fencing and rows of portable toilets lining the streets. Walking to some areas required passing through airport-style metal detectors or going several blocks out of the way to avoid the security zone.
Some people attending the Mass on Sunday reported waiting in security lines for more than five hours with no jumbo TV screens nearby to watch.
“I was disappointed. I was upset, but it’s not the pope’s fault,” said Harvey, of Wilkes-Barre, who had tickets. “I would have had a better chance of seeing him if I just watched it at home.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput said Monday he had friends who could not get in because of the logjam at the metal detectors.
“If we had it our way, we probably would have kept it a lot simpler,” Chaput said.
Some businesses closed early and about 1,300 downtown hotel rooms went unfilled. Normally bustling city streets were deserted as residents either stayed home or left town and pilgrims failed to deliver the expected spending boom.
“I know many businesses downtown sacrificed because people didn’t show up as they normally do,” Chaput said.
By Michael R. Sisak