5 Takeaways From the Joyous, Weird Scene at Independence Mall

There was a rousing speech by the pope. But that was only part of the spectacle.

A crowd fills the Independence Mall as Pope Francis speaks in front of Independence Hall, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A crowd fills the Independence Mall as Pope Francis speaks in front of Independence Hall, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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Independence Mall was a chaotic, bizarre, beautiful place on Saturday. Pope Francis delivered a rousing speech on immigration and religious freedom there in the afternoon, but that was far from the only memorable thing that happened. Here are five takeaways from a day at the historic site:

1. Philadelphia is truly an international city right now.

Before the pope showed up to deliver his speech, Chinese dancers, African drummers and salsa musicians entertained the crowd for hours. Walking around, I heard more non-English languages than I heard English, and officials who took to the stage always got a bigger applause when they spoke in Spanish. People were waving flags from loads of different countries. Seeing this all near Independence Hall, where our country got its start, was pretty special.

2. The faithful, many of them immigrants, came to see the pope because they were searching for hope.

When asked why they had come to Pope Francis’ speech, audience member after audience member said they were looking for a little hope or good luck. “I hope what the pope’s visit brings us is hope,” said Juan Cerrada, a Venezuelan immigrant from Northeast Philly. “We have a lot of people without papers. The people can’t get very good jobs. You know what I mean? So I hope that with the pope’s visit, the people will be better.”

“I want to see if he can throw a blessing to us,” said Pedro, also of Northeast Philly.

Even little ones were crossing their fingers for some good luck from the pope.

3. Some people came to Independence Mall just to get a look at the pope, and then peaced out.

Before Francis delivered his speech at Independence Mall, he traveled down Market Street, and people went bonkers. Absolutely, Beatles-level bonkers. Take a look at this giddiness:

After Francis left the immediate area, though, many audience members left, too — before he even finished his speech. It seems that some simply wanted to lay their eyes on him, which is perhaps part of why many of the Jumbotrons throughout the city have been such a flop.

The crowd thins out after Pope Francis drives by. | Photo by Holly Otterbein

The crowd thins out after Pope Francis drives by. | Photo by Holly Otterbein

4. In parts of the papal lockdown, journalists are treated really, really strangely.

Reporters who had access to the media risers at Independence Mall had to follow a lot of weird rules: First, we had to take a bus from the Convention Center to the site, even though it’s just a few blocks away. If we didn’t, we were told, we would have had to stand in line to get in with ticket holders. That’s understandable, I guess. But other restrictions weren’t. For instance, reporters who wanted to interview audience members had to be chaperoned at all times by a staffer for the World Meeting of Families, and they could only conduct the interviews in a restricted area.

5. It’s all good, though. Because two babies who were at Independence Mall are going to live perfect lives and then go to heaven.

That’s what happens when the pope blesses people, right?

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