Papal visit: Frequently asked questions

Mayor Nutter and World Meeting of Families volunteers distribute "OpeninPHL" kits to city businesses. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

 
Thank you for reading philly.com's FAQ about the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia. If you have a question that may be unanswered here, feel free to email it to popequestions@philly.com and we'll try to get it answered.
 
When and why is the pope coming to Philadelphia?
 
Pope Francis will be in Philly on Sept. 26 and 27 to mark the culmination of a week of activities (Sept. 22-25) by the World Meeting of Families Congress that pulls from 150 countries.
 
His trip here will mark the last leg of his North American journey, with stops in Cuba, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
 
His local itinerary open to the public includes a stop at Independence Mall, a Saturday World Meeting of Families celebration on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and a Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
 
Will all papal events be open to the public?
 
No. Pope Francis' visit to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility will be closed to the public.
 
What is the World Meeting of Families Congress? What will they be doing?
 
St. John Paul II created the World Meeting of Families in 1994 in Rome to explore the role family plays in society and to give families opportunities to talk about their challenges and blessings. This will be the group's eighth congress, being held September 22-25 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In addition to three midweek morning Masses, the congress will hold breakout sessions and host a variety of speakers. For a look at its agenda, click here.
 
How many people are actually expected during the week and during the weekend?
 
The World Meeting of Families Congress had a goal of 10,000 to 15,000 attendees. "We already have more than 12,000 individual registrations and expect more so we are really pleased," said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF.
 
The closing events, in which Pope Francis will be present, include the Festival of Families on Sept. 26 and the Papal Mass on Sept. 27. "It is anticipated 750,000 to 1 million persons will be present for the Festival of Families and upwards of 1.5 million persons will be in attendance for the Papal Mass," Crilley Farrell said.
 
How do I get to Philadelphia?
 
While driving to Philadelphia is possible, parking will be at a premium and much of the city may be closed to traffic due to the security preparations for the pontiff's visit. Public transportation via Amtrak, SEPTA, PATCO and buses is encouraged.
 
When will SEPTA be running that weekend?
 
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) plans to operate on a normal schedule during the week. But that will change on the weekend. "With the extraordinary number of people expected to attend events during the papal visit, SEPTA will be more than doubling Regional Rail service capacity," the authority says on its website. 
 
Trains will operate from ONLY 18 stations and ONLY passengers with special prepaid passes will be allowed to board. Weekly and monthly Trailpasses will not be honored. Trains into the city will run from 5:30 a.m. to noon. Trains leaving the city to the designated stations will begin at 5:30 p.m.
 
All passengers travelling by Regional Rail on Sept. 26 and 27, including seniors, those with disabilities and children over the age of 5, will have to pre-purchase a One Day Papal Pass.
 
Due to limited parking at the designated train stations and nearby overflow lots, SEPTA is urging customers to get dropped off and picked up.
 
Some SEPTA service in Center City will be disrupted starting Thursday evening as the Secret Service begins to set up security barriers, Mayor Nutter announced on Aug. 20.
 
Beginning at 10 p.m. on Sept. 24, Regional Rail trains will be on a weekend schedule and won't stop at Suburban Station. Subways and trolleys will not stop at the 15th Street or City Hall stations starting then. That continues through the end of the day Friday, and limited, express-style service will be in place Saturday and Sunday.
 
Can I still get a special papal pass ticket on SEPTA?
 
SEPTA is continuing to sell special papal passes for regional rail, suburban trolleys and the Norristown High Speed Line and will do so until Thursday, Sept. 24, according to spokesman Andrew Busch.
 
"We're currently at approximately 113,000 Regional Rail passes sold of the 350,000 available, and about 6,000 sold of 31,000 available for the suburban trolleys and NHSL," Busch said on Friday, Sept. 11. "We're ending sales on Thursday the 24th mainly for planning purposes - to give us, and our partners in the city and the suburbs, an idea of how many people will be using the system. It will also help us avoid overcrowding - and with that, the potential for passengers to get passed up for service, like we had during the 2008 Phillies parade."
 
The only exception will be on the airport line, where passengers will be able to one-stop-shop for aiport line and all other SEPTA tickets and passes needed during papal weekend at the Terminal A, B, and C/D stops, he noted. Sales there will begin Monday, Sept. 21.
 
Will suburban bus lines operate normally during papal weekend?
 
A number of suburban bus routes will be adjusted, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. They include:
 
- Service will be suspended on suburban bus routes 106, 115, 118, 120, 126, 133, 204 and 205.
 
- SEPTA will operate weekday schedules - providing more frequent service than normal Saturday and Sunday operations - on routes 99, 103, 104, 107, 108, 109, 110, 112, 123, 124, 125, 201 and 206.
 
- All other suburban bus routes will run on normal weekend schedules. Riders should continue to check SEPTA’s website closer to the event for bus service details, including detours.
 
There is a concert at Union Transfer the night of Sept. 26th. What is the transportation going to be like that night? Should we try to get papal passes for SEPTA? And what about when the concert is over, will there be public transportation available then?
 
This reader, and others with similar plans, can consider the options available on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines, said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch. These lines will operate to-and-from a total of 22 stations, and will run in both directions throughout the weekend from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. However, there will not be overnight service on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines during the Papal Visit weekend.
 
Customers on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines can use pre-purchased fares, including regular weekly and monthly passes, tokens and a special Three Day Papal Transit Pass.
 
For Regional Rail travel, only the Airport Line will operate with regular inbound/outbound service throughout the weekend. Service on the other Regional Rail lines will be from the designated outlying stations to Center City from 5:30 a.m.-noon, with return (outbound) service beginning at 5:30 p.m. Customers will be required to have a pre-purchased One-Day Regional Rail Pass for travel.
 
If I have flight out of PHL during papal weekend, can I still take SEPTA?
 
Yes, said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch. "Airport Line customers traveling from Center City will have to pre-purchase fares," he said. "This includes a regular Trans/TrailPass that would normally be valid for Airport Line travel, an Independence Pass, or a pre-purchased paper ticket. No cash will be accepted; conductors will not make transactions on-board Airport Line trains during the Papal Visit. For those traveling from Center City to the Airport, passes and tickets will be validated at Jefferson and University City Stations prior to boarding."
 
When will SEPTA return to normal service?
 
Not until Tuesday, Sept. 29. Saturday schedules will be in place on Regional Rail for Friday, Sept. 25 and Monday, Sept. 28, said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch.
 
On Friday, Sept. 25, service will operate to-and-from all stations except Suburban Station, Busch said. On Monday, Sept. 28, the first train from the airport to Center City will depart at 4:18 a.m. and service resumes to/from all stations including Suburban Station at 6 a.m.. but again on a Saturday schedule.
 
When will PATCO be running?
 
The Port Authority Transportation Corporation (PATCO) will run normally during the week. But on the weekend, FREEDOM cardholders will pay $2.50 each way. Special passes for non-cardholders are for sale now on PATCO's web site for $5 for one day and $10 for both. 
 
Although no schedule information has yet to be announced, trains will run from four New Jersey stations and Philadelphia's 9th/10th & Locust Street station. The four stations boarding passengers are Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue and Broadway (Walter Rand Transportation Center).
 
What if I fly in to Philly?
 
SEPTA's Airport Line service will be available for travelers arriving at Philadelphia International Airport on Sept. 26 and 27, the system has said.
 
Arriving passengers will be able to one-stop-shop for ariport line and all other SEPTA tickets and passes needed during papal weekend at the Terminal A, B, and C/D stops, said SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch. Sales there will begin Monday, Sept. 21.
 
SEPTA suggests that customers who know they'll be flying in during the papal visit Sept. 26 or 27 plan ahead.
 
As more information becomes available it is being posted here: http://www.phl.org/passengerinfo/Pages/Papalvisit.aspx
 
If someone has a question about what time to get to the airport to catch their flight, they should contact their individual airlines, said Philadelphia International Airport spokeswoman Diane Gerace.
 
Will I be able to fly while the Pope is at the airport?
 
Pope Francis will arrive and depart from Atlantic Aviation, a fixed-base operator that serves a variety of private aircraft at Philadelphia International Airport, said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF.
 
"Due to security protocol, there will be no arriving or departing flights while Pope Francis is at Atlantic Aviation," Crilley Farrell said. "It is important to note, however, the Holy Father will not be at Atlantic Aviation for extended periods of time."
 
What if I take a bus to Philly? 
 
Private and commercial buses will not have to register for events during the week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. However, all private and commercial buses (RV, passenger van, motor coach, school bus or mini bus) traveling to Philadelphia to participate during the weekend MUST register through a portal called GO GROUND.
 
Be aware that during the weekend, tour buses directed to park near the stadium/arenas in South Philly, said Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman. Original plans called for as many as 1,100 buses parking in Camden, but they were changed.
 
How do I get around in the city that weekend?
 
Be prepared to walk - several miles, both the World Meeting of Families and Mayor Nutter have repeatedly said. Much of the city will be cordoned off to traffic for security purposes so "private vehicles will not be a viable transportation option," the WMOF warns
 
Some SEPTA service in Center City will be disrupted starting Thursday evening as the Secret Service begins to set up security barriers, Mayor Nutter announced on Aug. 20.
 
Beginning at 10 p.m. on Sept. 24, Regional Rail trains will be on a weekend schedule and won't stop at Suburban Station. Subways and trolleys will not stop at the 15th Street or City Hall stations starting then. That continues through the end of the day Friday, and limited, express-style service will be in place Saturday and Sunday.
 
SEPTA's subways and elevated trains will run with limited stations for passengers with tokens, transfers, transpasses, One Day Convenience Pass, One Day Independence Pass, TransitPass, TrailPass, and the system will sell a special papal three-day transit pass for $10 each, according to Jerri Williams, SEPTA's director of media relations. The special papal Regional Rail passes will not be accepted. 
 
A lottery was held for papal passes to be used on Trolley Routes 101/102 (Media/Sharon Hill Lines) and the Norristown High Speed Line at specific stations.
 
Three-day Papal Transit passes - to be used on the subway, buses and trolleys - will go on sale, but likely won't be through a lottery.
 
Surface travel will be impacted significantly by detours and security perimeters, Williams warned. "We're going to do our very, very best, but there's a lot of unknowns given the number of people who will be using SEPTA."
 
There will be no trolley service in Center City and service from West/Southwest Philadelphia will only operate as far as 30th Street, Williams said. An as-yet-unspecified number of city and suburban bus routes will also be suspended. 
 
As for timing of the subway trains and trolleys, inbound traffic will run from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., she added. Outbound traffic will begin at 5:30 p.m. 
 
Uber - the app-based ride service - is also talking with the WMOF and adding drivers to handle the large influx of tourists within the city - but with one big if, according to spokesman Taylor Bennett.
 
"We look forward to the release of the official transportation plan next month and will message driver partners and riders about how detours and closures may affect them in September," Bennett said.
 
Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, said he told members to plan to stay home that weekend.
 
Can I rent/bring a bike?
 
Indego, the city's bike-sharing program, will be shut down in parts of Center City for the weekend events, said Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's press secretary.
 
"Bike riding will be allowed, though some areas of Center City will be restricted," McDonald said. "The City is now exploring parking options for those coming to the World Meeting of Families event. Again, more transportation details will be provided in the coming weeks."
 
Indego will provide staffed corral service at select locations, including Rittenhouse Square Station; Foglietta Plaza Station; 30th Street Station dock; and Broad and Spring Garden. The following 15 stations will be closed: Art Museum, Rodin Museum, 21st and Winter streets, Free Library of Philadelphia, Municipal Services Building Plaza, Independence Mall, 6th and Race streets, 18th and JFK Blvd., 19th and Market streets, 23rd and Market streets, Convention Center, 8th and Market streets, 4th and Walnut streets, 2nd and Market streets, and 12th and Filbert streets. The remaining stations will continue 24-7 operation.
 
Bikes will not be permitted on Regional Rail trains or "inside transit vehicles" during the weekend, SEPTA said in a statement.
 
How big will the security cordon be?
 
 
The outermost is a "traffic box" that vehicles won't be allowed to enter starting the evening of Friday, Sept. 25, though vehicles inside the box when it closes will be able to generally move freely within it. That area spans from the Delaware River to 38th Street and from South Street as far north as Girard Avenue.
 
The second layer is a "secure vehicle perimeter," where no traffic except designated vehicles will be allowed, and all other cars must be moved outside the zone or to garages. That area includes the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Independence Mall areas, as well as several blocks in all directions from those venues.
 
Inside that zone, there are "event perimeters" that will involve magnetometer check points and fencing in the areas immediately near Pope Francis' appearances.
 
A PDF map of the perimeters can be found here.
 
What will happen if you live, park or drive in the security zones?
 
In response to several specific reader questions, Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman, said the following:
 
- Homes within the zones will not be searched.
 
- If you walk out of the zones during the weekend and want to return, you will have to go through a magnetometer, but there is "priority access."
 
- Any vehicles in the zones before the traffic box goes into effect will be allowed to leave, just not reenter.

- Cabs can operate in the traffic box until Saturday at 2 a.m. and again at 3 a.m. on Monday. ADA cabs are permitted to operate throughout the weekend.

 
- Greyhound/MegaBus service will be operating from different locations. Check with those companies for specifics.

- There is no official bus parking in Camden coordinated by World Meeting of Families. If they registered through GoGround they will be given directions to the Sports Complex.

 
Are there hotel rooms left? Where else can I stay?
 
"I'm fairly certain that the hotels will be completely sold out during the weekend of the papal visit," Ed Grose, executive director for the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said in July.
 
On Friday, Sept. 11, Grose told the Associated Press that about 3,000 of the 11,200 rooms in the city's downtown are still available. Hotels are slashing rates, skipping minimum stay requirements and tossing in extras like subway tokens and bags full of Philadelphia-centric snacks to lure guests for the two-day visit.
 
Staffing the hotels posed a challenge, due to SEPTA's limited service and expected security cordons. But Grose said 80 percent of Philly hotel workers live in the city, "which will help to make the logistics of getting to work easier.
 
"A fair amount also staff suburban hotels," he noted. "Like everyone else, we're waiting to see what the final SEPTA plans hold. I'm confident that on the weekend of the papal visit, we will have our hotels fully staffed."
 
The WMOF itself was handling room blocks for each hotel. The deadline to register for a room was Aug. 16. At first the group's web site warned travellers that they may pay double or more the normal rate at nine area hotels with vacancies, according to the WMOF's web site.
 
Beyond hotels, Crilley Farrell said, "we are exploring a variety of alternative housing options for those who are planning to come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit, such as campgrounds, retreat houses and notably our 'Host a Family' program."
 
The "Host a Family" program, powered by Homestay.com, will allow residents living within 120 miles of Philadelphia to open their homes to visitors for a reasonable daily fee, she added. "While we have already seen more than 600 families sign up for the 'Host a Family' program, we anticipate the need for thousands more."
 
What is there to do in Philly?
 
Here are lists of free and family-friendly attractions. For a better idea of what to do and where to go, check out philly.com's Visitors Guide.
 
Will Philadelphia's museums be open?
 
Some may close for the weekend. At this point, the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Rodin Musuem will be open Friday, Sept. 25, but will close the next two days, according to press officer Joy Deibert. The museum will reopen Monday, Sept. 28.
 
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will be closed to the public for four days - from Friday, Sept. 26 through Monday, Sept. 28 - to "support the City of Philadelphia and avoid adding to the expected traffic and crowds," said Carolyn Belardo, the museum's senior communications manager.
 
"We will have essential staff onsite to feed and care for our 100 live animals," Belardo said previously. "Otherwise, we are unable to keep overnight as many staff as we would anticipate needing to run the museum that weekend.
 
On Sept. 19, The Franklin Institute will debut Vatican Splendors, a collection of "some of the world's most revered treasures - many of which have never left the Vatican," said Stefanie Santo, the museum's director of public relations.
 
"We are currently working with the appropriate agencies in an effort to remain open during the papal visit (Sept. 25-27) so travelers and locals alike may experience Vatican Splendors during this momentous event, Santo said. "The safety of our city and visitors is always paramount."
 
The Vatican Splendors exhibit will be on display through Feb. 15, 2016.
 
How much financial impact will the pope's visit have on Philly's economy?
 
Bob Ciaruffoli, president of the World Meeting of Families, said he believes the impact of the papal visit will surpass $500 million based on the growing number of visitors expected.
 
With security heightened for the pope, what about policing the rest of the city?
 
"It will definitely be manned," said Officer Tanya Little in the police department's public affairs office. "The city will operate as it always does, as a regular day."
 
How early should I arrive at an event, given lines and security?
 
While the final decisions have to be made by each individual, the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 advises those interested in attending papal events to arrive several hours in advance of the event, said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF.
 
When will the performers start?
 
The Festival of Families will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The event will feature performances throughout the day by many cultural groups, educational institutions, and spiritual organizations, said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF. It will culminate at 7:30 p.m. with a main program of music and spectacular visual arts performances by world-renowned artists Andrea Bocelli, Juanes and the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as a celebration with Pope Francis.
 
What should I wear?
 
During the papal visit, walking will be the main means of transportation and visitors should be prepared to walk a distance to get to the events, said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF. Visitors are encouraged to wear footwear suitable for walking long distances and dress appropriately for the projected weather.
 
Will my cell phone work?
 
Organizers have partnered with all major cellphone carriers, which are positioning extra mobile coverage throughout Center City.
 
Each of the 40-some Jumbotrons on the Parkway will be equipped with eight high-density hot spots to provide free WiFi in the most congested areas, said Tom Dugan, chief technology officer for the World Meeting of Families. Xfinity is also opening all of its corporate hot spots for free access that weekend.
 
There will also be Jumbotrons throughout Center City to show the pope's Sunday Mass, said Meg Kane, a spokeswoman for the WMOF. 
 
Will there be public toilets?
 
More than 3,000 porta-potties - about one for every 250 people, including 300 that are handicap-accessible - and about 350 urinal stalls will be set up for the crowds. Each porta-potty bank will have a truck driver, a manager, and an attendant to help keep lines moving. The teams will service the units three times a day and as needed.
 
What can I bring? Cameras? Water? Snacks? Umbrellas?
 
For papal events on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and at Independence Mall, the U.S. Secret Service issued a list of banned items on Sept. 2, including: aerosol cans, ammunition, animals other than service/guide animals, backpacks and bags exceeding the size restrictions (18" x 13" x 7"), balloons, bicycles, hard coolers (soft-sided thermal coolers ARE allowed), drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, explosives, firearms or weapons of any kind including toys and replicas, glass, thermal or metal containers, laser pointers, mace/pepper spray, packages, selfie sticks, signs exceeding the size restrictions (5' x 3' x 1/4") made of any material except cardboard, poster board or cloth, structures, supports for signs and placards, and any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard. 
 
Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families. encourages visitors to go to worldmeeting2015.org prior to the event for detailed information about what items are and are not permitted.
 
Can I bring a chair?
 
Chairs are not on the Secret Service prohibited list of items for the Festival of Families on Saturday and for the Papal Mass on Sunday.
 
"If it isn't on the list, it is allowed," responded Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman, when asked about portable/camping chairs.
 
Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback declined to elaborate.
 
The list of banned items also includes this blanket phrase, "any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard."
 
What about handicap/stroller accessibility for events?
 
There will be a special area for handicapped/wheelchair-bound persons for both public events on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and at Independence Mall, but, "Unless you are in the ticketed section, there is no seating provided," said Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman.
 
And according to the World Meeting of Families, space in those sections will be limited and on a "first-come, first served basis," a statement from the WMOF says.
 
Once passed security, a WMOF volunteer will direct ticket-holders in wheel chairs and one companion to the "reserved ADA Platform areas," the statement says.
 
There will also be a special area at Von Collin Memorial Field, at 23rd and Pennsylvania Avenue, for those who are blind/partially sighted and individuals with disabilities needing special accommodations. But again a ticket is required for access, the WMOF says.
 
On Monday, Sept. 14, Inquirer owner and philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest announced a $100,000 grant to have 500 teenage athletes push people using wheelchairs. They will be assigned to stadium complexes, the Convention Center, and throughout the Francis Festival Grounds during the weekend.
 
Also note:
 
- There will be charging stations for electronic wheelchairs at the Red Cross stations.
 
- All water facilities, food service and retail stations will be ADA compliant.
 
- About 10 percent of all the portable restrooms will be ADA compliant.
 
- Rental wheelchairs and scooters will be made available at the Stadium lots and the Pa. Convention Center. The link to mobility device rentals is http://locations.scootaround.com/wmof.
 
Will there be any assistance for those with difficulty hearing?
 
"One of the many ways we hope to enhance the visitor experience is through the use of Jumbotrons, which will be strategically placed throughout each public event," said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the WMOF. Real-time translation and captioning in eight languages will be available through the 'Go Philadelphia!' mobile app.
 
There will also be a special area at Von Collin Memorial Field, at 23rd and Pennsylvania Avenue, for those who are blind/partially sighted and individuals with disabilities needing special accommodations. But again a ticket is required for access, the WMOF says.
 
Will there be medical help nearby?
 
Safety is one of our main priorities, and the World Meeting of Families is working hand-in-hand with the City of Philadelphia to ensure the safety of all those in attendance at papal events. There will be multiple medical service stations on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and near Independence Hall to provide any assistance needed.
 
Thank you for reading philly.com's FAQ about the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia. If you have a question that may be unanswered here, feel free to email it to popequestions@philly.com and we'll try to get it answered.
 

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