3 Philly Lessons From Pope Francis’ Ecuador Visit

The crowds, the weather, the pope himself all present challenges.

Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia in the fall, but it won’t be his first trip to the Americas this year — the pontiff is currently on a visit to Latin America that started this week with stops in Ecuador.

Philly officials are neck-deep in preparations for the pope’s visit, but are “monitoring the Pope’s visit to South America and following all media and social media coverage,” said a spokeswoman for the effort. “As of now, we haven’t been in touch with officials from Ecuador regarding our plans but certainly, if the opportunity arose to connect, we would welcome it.”

Three lessons Philly officials could learn from Ecuador:

The crowds will be huge. Yes, we know that, but it’s hard to get a visceral feel for it until you see pictures like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

It’s just a sea of humanity. And the vast majority of pilgrims are not in the frame of any other those pictures.

“A Vatican official estimated that half a million people had lined the streets of the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, on Sunday, to see the Pope,” the BBC reports. “City officials said a million visitors had travelled to Guayaquil to see the Pope.”

Guayaquil has a population of 2.291 million — a bit more than Philly proper — so that visitor count is about the same as squeezing an extra few pounds into a full bag of flour. Philly is going to get as many as 2 million visitors. There may be no way to prepare for this, except to treat it as the most joyous disaster ever.

The pope likes to call audibles: This cuts both ways — he can spend less time than expected at places where he was expected to linger, but also show up suddenly praying with you in locations where you’d dared not hope for a personal glimpse.

The New York Times on an example of the former, at a cathedral in Quito: “He then went out on the steps to address a crowd, many of whom had waited hours to see him and endured a deluge. But instead of giving the short speech that he had prepared, Francis offered a brief blessing for the ‘noble Ecuadorean people.'”

CNN on an example of the latter: “Finally, the Pope said goodnight and went to bed. Except the crowd wouldn’t let him, singing and praying outside the Vatican Embassy, where he’s staying in Quito. Finally, the Pope came out, gave the crowd a quick blessing and then firmly told them to go home and let the neighbors get some rest.”

Why’s this matter? Because the pope’s visit is a national security event — much of Center City, it seems, will be locked down in order to provide for his protection. Security officials like to keep things predictable and reduce the number of wild elements in play at any time. This pope … doesn’t like to be quite so tied to a schedule. Can the tension be handled creatively and positively in an American security context? We’ll find out.

The weather could make a huge difference. Pope-goers have either been freezing or roasting, and in many cases both..

“Firefighters sprayed water from hoses on the crowd to provide relief from a searing sun and high humidity that made the 86 degree Fahrenheit temperature in the Pacific port city of Guayaquil feel at least 10 degrees hotter,” one outlet reported.

But later: “Tens of thousands who lined up outside the Quito park where the Mass was to be held got soaked in a punishing rain and hail storm. People grabbed what they could to protect themselves. They tore vinyl advertising placards off the metal fences surrounding the park, which was the city’s international airport until two years ago. … Quito security chief Juan Zapata said officials would distribute blankets from stocks kept by civil defense authorities.”

And in fact, we could get all that here. WeatherSpark.com reports that on a typical September 26th in Philadelphia, “the temperature typically varies from 56°F to 72°F and is rarely below 46°F or above 81°F.” Humidity is typically 58 percent or above; the chance of precipitation typically 38 percent or above.

So Philly might want to be ready — as at a music festival — with both firehoses and blankets. And the city might want to take an even closer look at lessons to be learned from the pope’s visit to Ecuador.

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