Travel Woes: The PHG Guide to Pope Week - Updated

"SchuylkillPhyladelphia" by Massimo Catarinella - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons -

"SchuylkillPhyladelphia" by Massimo Catarinella - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons -

It’s here. You’re either very, very excited or very, very afraid. The World Meeting of Families aka the aptly named Pope Week is happening from Sept 22-27, 2015. This is Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States, and with an estimated amount of over a million visitors coming to Philadelphia to see him, this is certainly going to be an event to remember. Considering that the Archdioceses of Philadelphia states that at least 10,000 volunteers will be needed for this event, we have one word of advice for you: hit the gym now, as you’re going to be doing a lot of walking or running.

At this point, you probably have a few questions: Who are the main players (besides the pope)? What’s going on during Pope Week? Should I rent out my house? Will the secret service be there? Answer: Yes. Most importantly, how am I going to get around?

Pope Francis - Licensed by the Presidency of the Nation of Argentina

Pope Francis - Licensed by the Presidency of the Nation of Argentina

Event Overview:

The World Meeting of Families is an event held every three years and boasts the world’s largest gathering of Catholics. While the pope is the main focus of the event, people come from all around the globe to see a variety of speakers, artists, and activities, including the Adult and Youth Congress speakers. The event is well known for its diversity of speakers and topics, with 2015’s theme being “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive”. The official world meeting takes place from Sept 22-25, and the papal visit is from the 26-27th, with the full event taking place over most of the week.

As you could guess, this event is going to be heavily guarded, with the combination of the secret service and regular Philadelphia police officers making sure the event goes off without trouble. Also, there will be a pope fence. Yes, you read that correctly. Thanks to Billy Penn, we also now have a more detailed play-by-play of the various events – including a Pope Beers event hosted by them – to keep us up to date on the various perimeter closings happening around the city.


Everyone wants to get a piece of pope week, which means that countless businesses, institutions, and groups have centered their efforts on the main events. During the week, you can check out gorgeous iconography courtesy of the Franklin Institute, or view a large scale mural at St. Malachy School commissioned by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

You can buy plenty of pope-related merchandise, including Pope t-shirts from a local couple in Chadds Ford. Businesses all around are excited, as the entire week is expected to bring in revenues rivalling any Super Bowl event. Besides the event-specific activities, there are plenty of other wonderful places to check out for locals and newcomers, including the Magic Gardens, Philadelphia Zoo, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and of course, the Reading Terminal Market.

For security reasons, there’s still a lot of things being kept quiet about the event, but the Papal Itinerary (which is probably being updated as we speak) can be viewed online, with various events that are open to the public, including a full list of events sponsored by Visit Philadelphia. The Saturday Festival of Families event will surely being one of the highlights of 2015 in Philadelphia, with Andrea Bocelli, Juanes, and the Philadelphia Orchestra already confirmed as performers. Aretha Franklin has also been confirmed for the Papal festivities. You can also order a variety of items to get ready for the event, including a Pope Tote

Rentals and Getaways:

Now to the fun part – how will all of these people fit into Philadelphia? It’s already estimated that there won’t be enough room for tourists from hotels alone, so all of you lucky aspiring landlords may get your time to shine.  To make sure that you’re not risking any potential scams, it’s recommended that you go with a licensed real estate agent. While people may be searching anywhere from Craigslist to Airbnb for their next event, going with an experienced agent means that you can weed through the influx of requests and find those who are serious about renting your home. On the bright side, the rental rates are soaring for the upcoming papal visit, which means you’ll have a great chance of competitively pricing your home. You can let your real estate agent take care of the heavy lifting, and plan your own vacation during this very busy week. For those running into the city, this is a great time to look for a hotel – many are slashing prices because there’s more room available than they had hoped at this point.


Lastly, how are you going to get around Philadelphia during the week? For quite some time, we had no way of telling if you’d be able to get into the city at all. Much of Center City will be completely blocked off to cars, and Mayor Nutter has confirmed that we have a large traffic box covering up most of the area around center city. This box will be closed to all incoming traffic starting Friday, Sept. 25th.  It’s also been confirmed that the Ben Franklin Bridge and I-76 will be closed, and while many papal consultants pushed to do the same for I-95, we’ll still have that open.  If you’re hoping to cruise into work on public transportation, that’s also going to be a stretch. Most SEPTA stations will be running significantly reduced stops and services compared to their normal run times, which means that getting in the city is difficult, getting out the city is even tougher. Everything from the regional rail to PATCO will be on a very different schedule, which means that getting around (unless it’s on foot) will be a challenge on its own. We have an official full list from SEPTA on all of the public transportation changes, so plan accordingly (and bring running shoes).

Lucky for all of us, the city has caught onto to the stress, and has been making revisions including setting up a Pope Map website, which is updated continuously to ensure that you know all of the best walking, driving, and bus routes. And of course, it’ll be helpful to know where you can’t go.

Moral of the story – if you’re not working from home, be prepared for some massive delays and don’t plan on getting too much done that weekend. Luckily, the World Meeting of Families has come out with an official Pope Week Visit Playbook that helps residents to prepare. With less than a month to go, and a few updates here and there from the City of Philadelphia, we’re in for a pretty wild ride.