The New Pope Must Ride SEPTA

A major Catholic conference is here in 2015. We need to get this bus-loving pope here, and on a SEPTA bus.

Habemus Papam,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Wednesday. Nobody knew what he meant, because it has been oh-so-long since high school Latin. Anyway, we have a pope!

As you can tell from this screenshot from the local news, people in Philadelphia were quite enthralled by the whole process:

The winner of this pope-ularity contest has quite the backstory. One of five kids in Buenos Aires, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio graduated from tech school as a chemical technician (a job title that might as well be in Latin). But he decided instead to become a priest and rose through the ranks like you do in any huge bureaucracy. The new pope is a Jesuit, which is surprising; the Jesuits are the smart-aleck wise-asses of the priesthood, and I use that descriptor with the utmost respect. When Francis led the Jesuits in Argentina in the 1970s, the order was feuding with the Vatican! Naturally, Jesuits themselves are kind of confused, too: “Who will the pope obey now? How will this obedience work?” Incidentally, Pope Francis paid out 25-to-1.

A few other facts about the Pope: He only has one lung because of a childhood infection—”He probably wouldn’t be able to run marathons, but I don’t think that would be on his schedule,” Dr. Peter Openshaw tells the Associated Press—and, oh, he he might have supported Argentina’s murderous dictatorship. At the very least he kept silent during that time; as Latin American archbishops go, he was no Oscar Romero. But he’s also known as a guy who eschews pomp and circumstance, paying his own Vatican boarding-house bill yesterday and famously giving up his limo because he preferred to ride the bus to work.

In September 2015, the World Meeting of Families Catholic conference comes to Philadelphia; when it was announced last month, Archbishop Charles Chaput said he expected the new pope would attend. Philadelphia hasn’t had a papal visit since Pope John Paul II—a hero to all in Port Richmond—visited in 1979.

Yes. Pope Francis must visit Philadelphia in 2015, and he must ride SEPTA while he’s here. Let’s see how much he likes public transit when the person in front of him has just randomly vomited all over.

(If I’m questioned about the above Photoshop at the pearly gates, I hope it’s for the poor quality of it and not the content. Hey, the Pope John Paul II impersonator had the Vatican’s blessing!)

Of course, there are some downsides. Francis is notoriously frugal, and SEPTA has hiked fares; by 2014 the base cash fare will be $2.50! (There won’t be tokens anymore, though perhaps SEPTA token jewelry will be a thing.) SEPTA’s fare hikes on Regional Rail are much steeper. If the Pope wants to ride the Trenton line to Cornwells Heights to see the Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, he’s going to have to dig deep into his robe. Plus, what if he needs help in some way? SEPTA employees don’t get out of their little booths for anyone, even the holy father.

Perhaps SEPTA will make an exception and let the pope ride for free. Everything else is gravy: The pope riding the bus would be an awesome sight. And Francis appearing in Philly would mean a lot of people—okay, a lot of old people, mostly—getting very excited. Thousands more outsiders will come to the city to catch a glimpse of the Pope and eat Federal Donuts (by 2015, there will be one on every corner). There’s even an upside for those who don’t like the Catholic Church: The protests will be enormous, and will move some of the focus to the Catholic Church’s sex abuse coverup. See? Everybody wins.

Archbishop Chaput says he will write a letter to the new pope inviting him to Philly, hopefully including soft pretzels and Tastykakes in a care package to entice him. And he should also mention SEPTA’s ranking as the No. 1 transit agency in America. I don’t see how this can fail.

I’m not religious, but if the pope comes to Philadelphia and rides a packed SEPTA bus, this lapsed Catholic will become a regular church-goer again for a year. I swear to God.