20 Best Activities to Do During the Pope’s Visit to Philly

Our well-rounded guide to what's happening in addition to the public mass on Sunday.

Pope Francis | giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

You’ve heard about the Mark Wahlberg-hosted concert and the mass on the Parkway, but if you’re not keen on fighting the crowds to actually see His Holiness Pope Francis over the weekend, there are a ton of other ways to take part in the historic occasion — and maybe learn a few things or two along the way. Cultural institutions across the city are dedicating much of their programing this month to the papal visit — from exhibits displaying artifacts from the Vatican to panels on topics near and dear to the pope’s heart and even a pub crawl. The best part about all this is that these places have their own bathrooms. If you plan your time right, you  may never have to step foot inside one of those wretched Port A Potties that are taking over Philly’s streets as we speak. (Okay, you may fall into one during the pub crawl. That’s on you, though.)

Or, of course, you can use this guide as a complement to your jam-packed visit to the mass on the Parkway on Sunday. Whatever you do, have fun, live it up or just stick your head in the ground like an ostrich until the whole crazy thing is done and over.

Museums

VDII 1

Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Franklin Institute: Vatican Splendors
Take a journey through the biblical timeline. 2000 years of history will be on display at the Franklin Institute. Interact with a touchable cast of Saint John Paul II’s hand and admire 200 original works of art that have been borrowed from Vatican City. Open now through February 15th, 9:30 am, $34.95, 271 North 21st Street. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Take the family on a self-guided tour of art inspired by the Christian faith. Admire paintings, sculptures and architectural spaces holding great emphasis on depictions of Saint Francis of Assisi, the man who inspired the current papal name. While you’re there, don’t miss a peek Robert Indiana’s “AMOR” sculpture on the Museum’s East Terrace. Tuesday, September 22nd, Wednesday, September 23rd, 10 am, $20, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 

Eastern State Penitentiary: Catholic Chaplain’s Murals
The nation’s oldest penitentiary will open its rusty hinges for extended hours and special programming. Families from around the globe have unlimited access to newly restored murals of the Catholic Chaplain’s Office. Now until Thursday, September 24th, 10 am, $14, 2027 Fairmount Avenue. 

Verbum Domini II: God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations
Biblical tales will come to life when the Convention Center showcases over 80 historical artifacts, originally exhibited at the Vatican in Rome. Monday, September 21st to Friday, September 25th, free, 1101 Arch Street.

Religious Liberty and the Founding of America
Before hitting the Parkway to see the Father of Catholicism, hit the Constitution Center to see the Father’s of our nation (in the form of metal statues, of course). The Center is featuring an exclusive exhibit that revisits the roots of religious freedom in the United unnamedStates. Tuesday, September 22nd to Friday, September 25th, 9:30 a.m., $14.50, 525 Arch Street.

Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World
Read about Noah’s arc and the infamous Mesopotamian flood in the handwriting of people who lived through the event nearly 3,500 years ago. The Penn Museum’s latest exhibit showcases original Biblical recordings, the first Bible printed in America and a New Testament Bible published in twelve languages. Open now through Saturday, November 7th, 10 pm, $15 adults, 3260 South Street.

Public Forum on Climate Change
The Academy of Natural Sciences will address the issues of climate change as per the request of Pope Francis. The museum will host a special forum, bringing together environmentalists from around the world, including a leading advisor to the Vatican on climate change and sustainable development. Registration is free, but required here. Monday, September 21st, 6:30 pm,  free, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  

The Clergy and the Academy’s Collections 
Back in the day the Clergy actually could hold a candle to Charles Darwin. The religious leaders doubled as scientists, praying by day and discovering new species by night. The ecological findings and works of some of the most intellectual religious leaders can now be seen at the Academy of Natural Sciences. September 21st to September 25th, 10 am, $15.95, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  

National Liberty Museum
The National Liberty Museum has planned a three-tiered lineup of celebrations during the week of the pope’s visit: a special photography exhibit entitled “Building Bridges of Faith: Photographs of Papal Visits to the Holy Land, 1963-2015,” extended hours and religious-themed tours that happen every hour on the hour between 11 am and 7 pm, and a stained-glass exhibition featuring “12 stained glass scenes depicting heroes of the Bible; a glass chess set with Christian and Jewish figures engaged in dialogue; and other works of art.” Now through September 24th (tours) and November 1 (papal exhibit), various prices, 321 Chestnut Street. 

Tours

Catholic Shrine Tour
Our city is home to many holy sites. Philadelphia Trolley Works will offer an opportunity to explore many of these sites on a tour of Philly’s most treasured shrines. Featured attractions will include the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, St. John Neumann and St. Katharine Drexel and more. Friday, September 25th, 9 am, $125 adult, 1 North Independence Mall West.

Religious Walking Tours
Slip into comfy shoes and head out for an educational stroll through the city’s historical world. Choose from three different religious walking excursions that take tourists to prominent places of worship and religious sites around the city. Check out varied times and dates here. $29, 1 N Independence Mall West.

Wish Wall

Italian Market Wishwall Installation
Philly’s Italian community is tipping it’s hat to the leading man with a new art installation. Be sure to visit the giant Wishwall that will open at the Italian Market this Saturday. Guests are invited to post wishes, prayers, or intentions on the giant Wishwall. Arts and crafts, live entertainment and refreshments will accompany the posting event. Saturday, September 26th and Sunday, September 27th, 11 am, free,  9th Street Italian Market. 

Film and Theater

Villanova Premiere of Choral Work During World Meeting of Families
Two choirs that hail from Philly’s very own Catholic university will serenade a crowd just blocks away from the World Meeting of Families (WMOF). Witness the premiere of Cormac O’Duffy’s new oratorio “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb” at St John the Evangelist Church. Thursday, September 24th, 8 pm, free, St. John the Evangelist Church, 21 South 13th Street.

Free film for Papal Visit
Enjoy a reenactment of the life of a man who inspired our current Pontiff’s humble lifestyle. The International House will pay homage to Pope Francis with a screening of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a 1972 Oscar-nominated biopic of Saint Francis of Assisi. Thursday, September 24th, 7 pm, free, 3701 Chestnut Street.

World Meeting of Families Film Festival
The city will come alive with a screening of The Sound of Music. Families eager to embrace classic American culture can attend the Kimmel Center’s four-day film festival. Flicks on the bill include, The Mighty Macs, Invincible, The Wizard of Oz, Diary of a City Priest and of course, The Sound of Music. For the full list of screenings, click here. Tuesday, September 22nd to Friday, September 25th, $10 adult, $5 kids, Kimmel Center, 1500 Walnut Street. 

Photo by Dave Saba

Photo by Dave Saba

Papal Mass Viewing at SteelStacks
Sure, it’s no Art Museum on the Parkway, but you have to admit, the SteelStacks in Bethlehem are an impressive alternative backdrop. Residents of the region who are unable to make it down to the city can join the Diocese of Allentown for an outdoor Mass at noon that will lead into a live screening of the Papal Mass on the Parkway. Sunday, September 27th, 12 pm and 4 pm, free, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Chris Macchio Coming to Valley Forge Casino Resort – POSTPONED
Kick off your Italian-themed weekend with the tenor voice of Chris Macchio, a classically trained performer who got his start at the Manhattan School of Music. Macchio is known for his powerful performances throughout the entire nation as well as in Italy and Switzerland. Thursday, September 24th, 8 pm, tickets start at $45, Valley Forge Casino Resort, 1160 First Avenue, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. 

Food and Drink

General papal audience in St. Peter's Square, The Vatican, Rome, Italy - 12 Nov 2014

Pope Pub Crawl
Suds will overflow when nearly 10,000 people hit the local pubs in celebration of Pope Francis’ arrival. More than 20 of Philadelphia’s favorite bars and restaurants have partnered to form a citywide pub-hopping adventure that will span five neighborhoods. Pope Pub Crawl tickets include exclusive deals and discounts and will benefit Philabundance. You can purchase tickets here. Saturday, September 26th, 12 pm, $10. 

Divine Dining: A Meal Fit For a Pope
Take a decadent trip to Europe without leaving the kitchen. City Food Tours offers hands-on cooking classes all year long and on the menu this week: a papal feast. Come get your hands dirty and your stomachs full with some favored cuisine of past popes, including St. Peter’s fish and red wine risotto. Thursday, September 24th, 6 pm, price TBD, Rittenhouse Square, exact meeting location details provided upon purchase, here.

LGBT Family Papal Picnic
Philly’s LGBT coalition and Catholic communities will come together around a smokey grill. Attendees can expect to see Margie Winters, the teacher from a Catholic school in Merion who was fired over her same sex marriage; Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney; and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News Mark Segal. The pope himself was invited as well, yet there is still no word on whether or not he will be attending. Saturday, September 26th, 1:30 pm, John C. Anderson apartments, 251 South 13th Street.