While some people are spending as much as $600 a night at hotels for Pope Francis’ highly anticipated visit to Philadelphia, a North Jersey church group is spending less money on a far less luxurious place to stay: the Philadelphia Zoo.
“The zoo makes it a little more down to earth because it’s more like a pilgrimage,” said Melissa Peters, a congregant at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey. “We’re not gonna be staying in a hotel room where we have showers or where we have continental breakfasts and things like that. Instead we’re sleeping with animals in order to see the pope.”
Peters and 220 other parents and children from the church will sleep on the floor of the Philly Zoo buildings housing the bird and insect exhibits during the Pope’s visit to Philly for the World Meeting of Families in September.
“A pilgrimage is very different from a vacation or a trip,” said Cathy Hunt, another congregant. “A pilgrimage is a prayer experience and any discomfort that you’ll feel the excitement will be tenfold that.”
Church leaders say Pope Francis was named for Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals. They plan on publicizing their unique accommodations on Instagram and Twitter in the hopes that Pope Francis will take notice.
“If he kisses one of our kids I’ll be smiling the whole ride home,” said Father Gino de la Rama.
The church members will pay $120 a person for the overnight stay at the zoo and the bus ride. The church office said they’re getting phone calls from people asking if there is still room on the zoo floor. Philadelphia zoo officials say they’re completely sold out however.