Relax, Philadelphia: The Pope Is Bust-Proof

Mathis: It's nearly impossible to screw this up, Philly. So let's enjoy it.


OK, Philly, take a deep breath and relax. I have good news for you.

The pope is coming. He’ll be here this weekend. And despite all the hyperventilating and griping and low-level whining that’s accompanied the city’s preparations for this event, I can tell you this weekend is going to be a great success. In fact, I guarantee it.

Why? Because the pope is bust-proof.

No, really. The great thing about Pope Francis coming to Philadelphia is this: The people who come here to see him aren’t looking to be wowed by our city. Yeah, they might take in a museum exhibit or two, or check out Independence Hall, but the where of this event is going to be incidental to most of them. The pope is the attraction, end of story.

They’re coming here to see the pope.

They’re coming here to hear the pope.

They’re coming here, maybe, for a slim chance of seeing him close up, of receiving a personal blessing.

Now: I’m a lapsed Mennonite myself, so the fuss doesn’t really apply to me. But even I’m pretty pumped to see what happens when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims enter the city to celebrate their faith. It’s exciting!

And you don’t have to look too far to know that the fuss will be big. More than a million people showed up when Pope Benedict celebrated Mass at the last World Meeting of Families in 2012. If we get half that, well, the Parkway is still going to be plenty full of mostly ecstatic people.

There will be many tears of joy shed. Many people will feel renewed inspiration in their lives. And thousands of people will leave Philly having had a once-in-a-lifetime experience — something they’ll tell their children and grandchildren about, mementos of which they’ll pass down through generations. They will leave here happy, and five or 10 years from now, what they remember won’t be SEPTA’s operations or the hassle of getting tickets to the Parkway. They’ll remember the pope — and it will be a happy memory.

It’s almost impossible for us to screw this up, because it’s not about us.

Now: Note I said almost impossible. There are ways to screw this up, yes — and one of those ways just might be to keep shouting at the world how we’re going to screw this up. But, folks, Philadelphia doesn’t have to be perfect for this event to be a success. It simply has to be mostly competent. Believe it or not, all those layers of security and planning may finally come together this weekend to produce a mostly competent hosting of this event: If people can poop, pee, eat and get from place-to-place without too much hassle, it’s unlikely they’ll think badly of us in the future.

Here’s the problem: Because the pope is bust-proof, because it should be relatively easy to send most folks home with a smile on their faces, because the bar will be relatively low in achieving that success — well, the problem is that many city leaders might look around afterward and figure they did everything right.

That’s maybe not the lesson to take from this. The DNC, when it meets here next year to nominate the Democratic party’s candidate for president, may not engender as much goodwill among participants as a papal visit. We’ll need to put our best foot forward then, for sure.

It’s too early to look ahead, though.

Right now, the pope is due to arrive. The moment is finally here. It’s going to be a good moment, one we shouldn’t talk ourselves out enjoying. It’s time to put our trepidations to the side, slap some smiles on our faces, and go out there and be the bests hosts we can be. It’s going to be a great weekend in Philadelphia.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.