WHEN ARCHBISHOP Charles Chaput visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in January, the commissioner of city prisons, Louis Giorla, jokingly told Chaput that the prison would be more than happy to host Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia in September.
Yesterday, as Giorla stood outside of Curran-Fromhold's walls in front of a throng of reporters, even he seemed surprised at the punch line to his joke:
"It came true!" he said.
With the release of the official itinerary for the pope's visit to Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., yesterday, the public got its first glimpse at what Pope Francis wants to get out of his first visit to the United States of America.
In Philadelphia that includes a stop on every tourist's list - Independence Hall - and a stop on very few - a prison.
Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, said at a news conference on Independence Mall yesterday that the papal itinerary reflects the pope's priorities.
"From the visit to Curran-Fromhold prison to the Cathedral Basilica and here, to the cradle of liberty, Independence Hall, what a beautiful story this visit to Philadelphia will be," she said.
Pope Francis will begin his first day in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26, with a morning Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, which seats about 1,500 people.
Speaking in front of the basilica yesterday morning, Bishop John McIntyre, auxiliary bishop for Philadelphia, said that the Mass will be a free-but-ticketed event for priests, deacons, nuns and the "lay faithful" who make up the Archdiocese.
Later that afternoon, Pope Francis will give a speech in front of Independence Hall to an estimated crowd of 50,000. There, he is expected to address issues of religious liberty and immigration. He is also expected to arrive in the Popemobile, McIntyre said.
"The Holy Father will do a loop, so to speak, in the Popemobile at Independence Mall . . . so people will have a chance to be near him and he'll have a chance to be near them," McIntyre said. "As we know with Pope Francis, he's bound to stop along the way to get out of the Popemobile and greet people and bless babies and all those types of things."
When informed of the planned loop at Independence Hall and another planned loop on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Popemobile, which has its own Twitter account - @the_popemobile - had one response:
Following his speech at Independence Mall, Pope Francis will visit the Festival of Families on the Parkway, which is the culminating event of the World Meeting of Families.
According to McIntyre, Pope Francis will meet with five families at the festival who will represent the continents of the world.
On Sept. 27, the 78-year-old Energizer-Bunny-of-a-pope will meet with bishops at St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Wynnewood before traveling to Curran-Fromhold in Holmesburg, where he will meet with prisoners, their families and prison staff.
Speaking on Independence Mall yesterday, Mayor Nutter said he was not surprised the pope wanted to visit a prison.
"I think what he has demonstrated to the world is that he cares about those who are often left out, locked out or, in this particular instance, locked up," Nutter said.
Giorla, the prison commissioner, said male and female prisoners will meet with Pope Francis, but the prisoners have yet to be chosen. He declined to explain the selection process, except to say good behavior will be a factor.
Curran-Fromhold warden Michele Farrell, who is of no relation to the World Meeting of Families' Donna Crilley Farrell, said she hopes the pope's visit will influence the prisoners positively.
"I'm hoping that it will give a message to the inmate population that there are people out there that are willing to assist them, that there is hope for them, that they are not forgotten," she said.
Following the prison visit, Pope Francis will hold a public Mass on the Parkway for an estimated crowd of 2 million. He will then visit with World Meeting of Families organizers, volunteers and benefactors before returning to Rome.
Nutter said this visit doesn't compare to those of previous dignitaries.
"We have not had, in my recollection, a world leader basically dominate the city for two days with that much movement in a variety of places. It just doesn't happen that way," Nutter said. "We've had just about everything happen here. We've not had something like this."
One place on the itinerary that has seen a pope before, though, is St. Charles Borromeo seminary. Its rector, Bishop Timothy Senior, said Pope John Paul II visited back in October 1979.
"The whole seminary community . . . is rejoicing today," Senior said, speaking in the front of the seminary. "We are extremely excited that he will be visiting."
But Senior said he couldn't confirm whether Pope Francis will stay overnight at St. Charles.
"We don't actually have full confirmation that he's staying here," Senior said. "We do anticipate that he will just because, typically, the Holy Father, when he visits a city, would stay with the local archbishop or bishop at the diocese where he's staying."
The pope, who has renounced luxurious living at the Vatican, would fit right in as "the seminary would not be particularly lavish accommodations, by any means," Senior said.
Back outside of Curran-Fromhold, Chad Dion Lassiter, a member of the prison's board of trustees, said he sees Pope Francis' visit as an opportunity to galvanize the faith-based community to do more than just attend church.
"I think that there's going to be a potential shift in the current by the pope coming, and I think it will reverberate throughout the city," he said. "I'm really looking forward to just what can happen after he leaves because I think he's going to leave us with some teachable moments for us to implement change."