Every time I proclaim the "last word" on Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia last month...it's not. This is not the most important thing going on the world right now (more likely it's what we talked about yesterday) but the reporting that's been done on this topic so far is bothering me, so here's my 2 cents.
Some people continue to insist that 1 million people attended the papal mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Then there's some science dude who says it was no more than 142,000. The truth is out there, and it's not as hard as people are making this.
Where did the 1 million number come from? Well, it started with city officials and event organizers who estimated that 1 million people or 1.5 million even would show up, based on the World Conference of Families in other nations like the Philippines. Never mind that you're comparing Philadelphia to cities that are larger, more densely populated, more devoutly Catholic, with people who are more used to hassles and getting around without cars and who (for the most part) don't have an HDTV in every room of their house.
The irony was painful -- and at the time we didn't even know the half of it.
I'm talking about the U.S. reaction to that airstrikes that Russia recently launched in Syria -- either against ISIS (if you believe Putin, in which case I want to speak with you after the blog post about the possibility of selling you this valid deed I have for the Brooklyn Bridge) or against U.S.-trained-and-backed Syrian rebels, and on behalf of Putin's mass murdering pal, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad.
The nation that has dropped countless bombs across the Arab world from Afghanistan to Africa, from airplanes and from drones, including about 5,000 warheads against suspected ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in just the last year, is now worried that Russia dropping bombs in roughly the same corner of the world could lead to serious unintended consequences. In a statement released through Turkey last week, a coalition of allies warned that the Russian bombing raids were already harming civilians and "will only fuel more extremism and radicalization."
Oops, I forgot to mention that I'm in the middle of a few well-deserved (not really) days off. Had I been around late last week, I would have noted this, that President Obama's statement in response to the latest gun atrocity in Oregon was passionate, moving, and maybe the finest moment in the seven years of his presidency. (The only comparison that springs to mind was his Selma address on the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday.") Feel free to add your agreement with me in the space below. I'll be back on Tuesday and I promise that I'll have a lot to say on some other issues in the news.
When Pope Francis' jet took off from Philadelphia International Airport at 7:47 p.m. on Sunday, you know who breathed a huge sigh of relief? I mean, besides Mayor Nutter. The nation's proud execution workers. They quickly grabbed their hoods -- or whatever executioners wear in the 21st Century -- and their briefcases full of lethal cocktails and went back to work, still partying like it's 1099.
It already seems like a long time ago that Francis stood up before a joint session of Congress and said this:
“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said. “Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
Just a quick last word -- hopefully -- on Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia. It was definitely a blessed day -- and not just because the Birds finally won a game and Jonathan Papelbon imploded at almost precisely the instant that the Vicar of Christ took to the big stage near Eakins Oval. For most people, the weekend was what it was -- the crowd wasn't remotely close to the 1.5 million that city officials once spoke of, and it was probably considerably less than the 860,000 number that widely circulated Sunday night. But I think -- and this is what really matters -- that the pious people who really, really wanted to see Pope Francis...saw Pope Francis. Does it matter if that number was 200,000 or 2 million?
Of course, some of the faithful only saw the pontiff on a Jumbotron. That security -- it was too much, man...and not in the good sense.
I took a long stroll around Center City late Sunday morning and the whole scene away from the Parkway was borderline apocalyptic. Some of it was surreal and cool -- watching a dad seize a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play soccer with his son in the middle of 16th Street, packs of cyclists cruising the city like they were on the Wissahickon Trail. But there were concrete barriers just strewn about like matchsticks in the oddest places, eerily empty windswept streets...and on almost every corner, a gaggle of fresh-faced National Guardsmen, in full camouflage, just hanging around.
You probably missed it in all the hoopla over Pope Francis -- especially since the seemingly tireless 78-year-old pontiff was running around making some new, headline-worthy pronouncement every 45 minutes or so during his exhausting North American tour that wrapped up in Philadelphia. But the first-ever pope from the Americas actually said some pretty nice things about our capitalism.
It was just this summer, after all, that Francis called capitalism's excesses "the dung of the devil." It sounds kind of bad when you put it that way. But on Wednesday, the pope found himself before the millionaires-financed-by-billionaires known as the U.S. Congress. As Francis shows us time and time again, the man knows his audience:
"It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable," he said. “'Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good."
Pope Francis delivered his historic speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress, and anyone expecting a fairly liberal bent to the pontiff's message wasn't disappointed. End the death penalty. More openness for immigration. Do something about poverty and homelessness. And, while you're at it, climate change. It was like your typical Attytood blog post, except more eloquent and without the typos. Conservative social causes? He has a few, but then again too few to mention, apparently.
There were a couple of surprises, however. One was Francis' invocation of two fairly radical American Catholic thinkers and doers of the 20th Century, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The other was the pope's harsh and graphic condemnation of the international arms trade:
“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he asked. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”
"I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families."
The very first words uttered by Pope Francis on his six-day U.S. odyssey that ends up here in Philadelphia were about immigration. Not that there should be any doubt that -- along with climate change and income inequality -- this is the heart of the holy trinity of issues that really matter to this pontiff right now. He's going to speak a lot more about the immigration issue when he talks in front of Independence Hall on Saturday. He's even slated to meet immigrants -- including some who are undocumented -- during the New York part of the visit.