Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Pope In Philly - A First-Hand Account

Sharla Feldscher, a dear friend of ours, gives us this on-the-ground account of Pope Francis' historic visit to Philadelphia:

I came into Philly around 10 a.m. (I was supposed to arrive at 8 a.m. and work as a Media Volunteer but since there was a change on Friday night from Secret Service, no Media Volunteers were being credentialed. Darn.)

I was surprised that the Lindenwold train station wasn’t crowded. Got a good spot in the parking lot. Lots of police, checkpoint, too, but not a crowded train – some people, all pleasant and an easy ride. Fascinated to pass an empty Ben Franklin Bridge except for some walkers, police and military. Got to the city at 10th and Locust and saw lots of empty streets.

As I walked closer to PA Convention Center to get my “standing room only” ticket, it got more crowded and animated and I loved it – got my ticket, hung out in the Media Filing Center (I had my credential for that), took another photo with Flat Francis (as I heard someone call the cutout), signed a Pope poster outside Reading Terminal Market for $1. Later I bought a button that had a cheesesteak for “I”, a HEART, and Pope Francis.

In order to get into Independence Mall, the crowds could enter at the checkpoint at 6th and Race. I wandered down Arch and Race and spoke to all kinds of people – a Moroccan and I spent lots of time together. He said he had Jewish friends back in Morocco. I got in the checkpoint because of my ticket but he didn’t. He would go to Franklin Square to watch a giant TV with the crowds there, a Jumbotron. Then I went to meet my friend Barbara Alton, who used to work at The POPS. Her husband is the Priest at St. Clement’s Church at 20th and Arch and she was bringing a pilgrimage of 40 with some friends who helped her. I joined them. It was great. 

I sat on the lawn on the block of the IVC between Market and Arch, behind the press riser and in view of a big Jumobotron. I could see the top of Independence Hall. My “standing room only ticket” was pretty far from the festivities. I e-mailed and talked to the President of The Philly POPS and Michael, the Conductor, but I could only see Michael on the screen. 

I was so proud of how wonderful The POPS played Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”– absolutely perfect. Then, after 3 ½ hours of waiting on the lawn, we heard the Pope speak. At first we saw him in the Popemobile – that was amazing. He was a distance, but I saw him live and on the big screen! When he gave his speech, I was initially so disappointed that he spoke only in Spanish because the crowd was on their feet the whole time and covered the translation on the bottom of the screen. But then we all scattered to find a Jumbotron where we could read the translation and the Pope’s words were magical. 

Now, I understood why he spoke in his native language – he encouraged all people to be proud of their heritage, to always remember the lessons of their elders. It was so appropriate. I stood next to a man who was, well, I’m not sure what ethnicity, but we smiled together and equally valued the Pope’s words. I was proud to tell people I was Jewish as they shared their history.

I left with thousands – had to walk all the way back to 6th and Race to exit. It was very crowded and very pleasant. We walked past Chinatown. (I was getting hungry but on my way home.) I had to walk to 11th to get through the streets. 11th was a thoroughfare. I got to Locust, to the High Speed Line, on a crowded (not too crowded) train and I watched a family get off at Ferry Avenue who seemed to have a wonderful day. So did I. I wished I could have shared it with my family – but I only I had a ticket and they weren’t interested in the crowds.

I will always remember it – but I will remember so much of the images on television – the Pope arriving in Philly, the amazing Festival of Families and how gorgeous Philadelphia looked and his speech and his smiles and laughter as he joked about mothers-in-law. I loved the mural and was so proud and happy for my Mural Arts friends and he signed that gorgeous panel. Now, I want to buy a commemorative book.

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