Philadelphia mayor says pope's visit a tremendous success

AP News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2015 9:43 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — City and Catholic leaders on Monday heralded Pope Francis' weekend visit as a success while acknowledging complaints from pilgrims who got stuck in long security lines and businesses that saw underwhelming demand.

The pope's trip for the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families spurred intense traffic and security restrictions. Concrete and steel barricades lined downtown streets, and some people reported waiting in lines at metal detectors for more than five hours.

Organizers said they expected at least a million people for Sunday's Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Neither they nor the city provided a final count Monday.

About 1,300 of the 11,200 downtown hotel rooms went unfilled, train ridership was lower than expected and some areas of the parkway had ample room.

Mayor Michael Nutter downplayed the meaningfulness of a crowd total, saying at a press conference, "It's not like a football game. This is not a situation where you evaluate success based on the score." He blasted news reporters for their stories about extensive security, saying they may have deterred people from attending.

"You all scared the s--- out of people," he said. He later apologized for his "intemperate remark" and said he expected a terse admonishment from his mother.

Nutter also blamed a lack of communication between Philadelphia and its neighbors. Last month, New Jersey officials put out a map showing walks to papal events taking up to seven hours.

The mayor said dribs of information that came out over the summer — like a suggestion that Interstate 95, a major route through the city, would close — didn't help, either.

But Nutter called the pope's visit a tremendous success and spoke emotionally about how much he was moved by the opportunity to present his Catholic mother and aunt with front-row tickets to the papal Mass.

"Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walked through our city and enjoyed a wonderful, joyous and spiritual experience," Nutter said.

He said long lines at security checkpoints and complaints from businesses that security restrictions kept away customers would be addressed in a report.

Some restaurants reported a steadier flow of diners on Sunday before they headed to the parkway Mass.

"I feel like it's getting back to normal," said Victoria Simon, a bartender at Molly Malloy's in the Reading Terminal Market. "Thank God."

Heightened security for the pope's visit turned much of downtown into a fortified pedestrian mall, with concrete barriers, steel fencing and rows of portable toilets lining the streets.

Around the city, crews started loading the barriers onto flatbed 18-wheelers overnight and stacked the fencing in the streets. Piles of bicycle rack barricades were left for pickup outside the city's main train station. Heavier metal fencing was stacked outside office buildings.

Roads and highways reopened, and regional rail and subway trains resumed making their regular stops.

Schools and courts remained closed until Tuesday.