Philadelphia Leaders Urge People to ‘Be There’ for Pope Visit, Announce ‘Francis Festival Grounds’

Officials on Wednesday urged pilgrims to come see Pope Francis and pressed businesses to stay open during the historic papal visit, downplaying logistical challenges posed by security restrictions.

"I hope our message today is clear: Come! Be part of history," said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families. "Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a moment we will never have again."

Two new marketing campaigns were unveiled, including buttons and signs that say "I'll Be There" and the hashtag OpenInPHL. They were not developed in response to negative publicity about traffic and transit limitations, Mayor Michael Nutter said.

Francis will be in town Sept. 26 and 27 to close out the World Meeting of Families, a triennial conference aimed at strengthening family bonds. His public events include a speech at Independence Hall, a family festival and an outdoor Mass; officials estimate more than 1 million people could flock to the city.

But recently disclosed traffic restrictions imposed by the U.S. Secret Service have raised concerns about whether businesses can get deliveries, if employees can get to work, and how far visitors must walk to see the pontiff.

"We're working incredibly hard and fast to address all of the questions and concerns that we've been hearing," Farrell said. "And we can't promise that we can solve every problem and do it all, but we will try."

Nutter warned several weeks ago that people should be prepared to walk "at least a few miles or more" because of limited public transit and no-vehicle zones. On Wednesday, officials stressed that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's stations downtown are within a mile of the pope's public events. Nutter also noted hotel rooms are still available.

The mayor and others spoke at a news conference outside Jack's Firehouse, a restaurant in the Fairmount section not far from where Francis will celebrate Mass. It plans to stay open.

Owner Mick Houston said he's used to having big crowds in the neighborhood during events like the annual July Fourth concert. Still, he bought an extra freezer for the papal weekend to ensure he has enough supplies.

"So the worst thing that happens is we run out of food," said Houston. "Do I think that'll happen? No."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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