In a mere two months, Pope Francis and some 1.5 million pilgrims will arrive in Philadelphia for the largest event in the city’s modern history. The visit is being billed as a historic exploit that will be a boom for Philly’s global clout and economy.
But as close as the pope’s plane is to touching down at Philadelphia International Airport on September 26, Philadelphians remain in the dark about how the event will really affect their lives.
Questions posed to organizers and local and federal officials about closures, security, parking, access to basic services and even where the pontiff’s public motorcade will be traveling have been met — for months — with responses of ‘no comment.’
Wondering how much of Center City will be inside a fence or security perimeter? Keep pondering because officials won’t talk about it.
What highways and streets should you avoid that weekend? No idea! — officials haven’t provided a list.
Work downtown and want to know if your bus will take you anywhere close to your normal stop? Want on, because while SEPTA has said some buses will have truncated routes, the lack of a public security plan leaves final destinations in the air. The only real thing we know is you might walk for miles.
“It's very frustrating for locals trying to figure out how to get around during this special visit,” Ann Zeuke wrote on the NBC10 Facebook page. A student who travels to Philly from Bucks County for school, Zeuke said she’s nervous about getting around.
Citizens aren’t the only ones wanting answers. The Philly Police union, Fraternal Order of Police: Lodge 5, hasn’t been able to find out how the city expects to get officers to the events. Will it be a train? A bus? They don’t know.
“We haven’t been notified on anything and we’ve been trying to get information for our members and have been getting the door slammed in our face,” said FOP President John McNesby.
When will the answers come and the wild rumors subside? In two weeks, according to the Mayor’s Office.
City officials will begin holding weekly public briefings starting the first week of August to provide plans about the event.
So why has it taken so long to get information out there? City officials and organizers say while planning is ongoing, they’re at the mercy of the U.S. Secret Service when it comes to security matters. The secret service doesn’t typically announce details (albeit limited ones pertinent to the public) until three weeks before an event.
"If you give the game plan to the bad guys, essentially you are giving away the playbook of what’s going to occur that day,” said Robert Brzenchek, Assistant Professor and Program Manager of Criminal Justice Studies at Pierce College.
Brzenchek is a former Navy intelligence analyst, consultant and defense contractor who has attended law enforcement briefings about the visit. He says a presidential inauguration is on the same scale as the papal visit and that plans change often and officials would rather be sure about final details before releasing them publicly.
“They want to err on the side of caution,” he said. “Because that will cause mass hysteria as if [it looks like] law enforcement doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
Until August (and beyond), pack your patience.