Pope Week Begins: 3 Things to Know

Francis visits Cuba; media focuses on Chaput; D.C. struggles with pope logistics.

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Pope Week has arrived. After months of planning and fretting and fretting some more, this is the week Pope Francis finally comes to Philadelphia. We’re just days away now, so the tracking of events — both inside and outside Philadelphia — are going to get even more intense than they have been.

Three things to know today, the beginning of Pope Week 2015:

Pope Francis has already arrived in the Americas: He celebrated Mass in Havana, Cuba on Sunday, and met with Fidel Castro, but otherwise avoided getting enmeshed in that country’s politics, the New York Times reports.

Yet he is careful to avoid seeming too political and is being especially careful in navigating the politics of Cuba. This cautiousness has frustrated some Cuban dissidents who want a public meeting with the pope. On Sunday, the police stopped three men trying to distribute leaflets near Revolution Square.

“I wouldn’t say we are disappointed — it simply doesn’t appear to us to be right or just that the pope doesn’t have a little time to meet with those Cubans who are defending human rights,” said José Daniel Ferrer, the head of the nation’s largest dissident organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

Will he be similarly reticent in the United States? Congressional Republicans hope to use Pope Francis’ visit to push for new restrictions on abortion, Politico reports, and advocates of other issues  will want to use the pope’s visit to attract attention to their own causes. We’ll find out soon if he stays vague or sharpens his rhetoric in a relatively free society.

• The national and world media will be putting the Philly church in the spotlight. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has a new profile of Archbishop Charles Chaput as leader of conservatives in the American church — and also his desire to break out of a narrative that casts him as a bad-guy traditionalist to the pope’s good-guy liberal.

Archbishop Chaput has criticized what he casts as a specious opposition between moral concerns and the issues of social justice highlighted by the pope.

At a news conference last month, the archbishop complained about a “story line about a compassionate Pope Francis and conservative Catholic bishops” who supposedly “talk too much about abortion and religious freedom while they overlook the poor.” The archdiocese of Philadelphia spends more than $4.2 million of donations annually to help the poor, he said, compared with less than $200,000 defending the church’s teachings on abortion and other moral issues.

“I hope when Pope Francis flies home he’ll understand that American bishops share every ounce of his passion for the poor, beginning with the unborn child but not ending there,” he said.

Turns out D.C. and New York are also struggling with the logistics of the pope’s visit. Remember how the Washington Post sneered at Philly as a second-rate city for its difficulties in getting ready for the pope’s visit? Yeah, they’re getting overwhelmed too.

Like meteorologists tracking a hurricane’s arrival, officials have been issuing increasingly urgent warnings about the coming traffic. Leif Dormsjo, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation, said the city was estimating that the pope would draw about the same number of visitors as the annual July 4 fireworks — 250,000 to 350,000. But the fireworks shows are done on holidays, when few of the city’s nearly half million office workers are present.

Just as worrisome for traffic planners is that the weather is predicted to be glorious, drawing even more people downtown.

“You’d think that the pope could at least bring in a little thunder and lightning,” Mr. Dormsjo joked. “You know, Old Testament stuff. But no.”

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Hosting the pope — especially in a post-9/11 security environment — is a big, hard job. And Philly has the biggest, hardest job of any city on the pope’s itinerary.

Bonus thing to know: Here is the parking map that has the times and places Philadelphia parking restrictions go into effect. And here is Philly Mag’s Complete Pope in Philadelphia Survival Guide.

Check back for more #PopeInPhilly coverage throughout the day and week.