Nutter looks back on papal visit as cleanup continues

Nutter looks back on papal visit as cleanup continues
Charles Mostoller

The chairs were being folded up. The stage, assembled for a mega mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway, was being disassembled.

Life, on Monday, was returning to normal in Philadelphia

The World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis have come and gone and along with it — officials hope — the fences, traffic barriers, transit schedule changes and security infrastructure set up for the event.

“We expect it to be gone by the end of the day,” said Mayor Michael Nutter at a Monday morning press conference at which he and other officials declared the visit a success, shared personal stories about their experience with the pontiff and disputed concerns that security precautions scared some people away.

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While there was no official crowd estimate, unofficial counts said that about 860,000 people attended the mass with Pope Francis on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

If accurate, attendance was well short of the 1.5 million planners said could show up for the event.

But Nutter said the event should be measured by more than the size of the crowd.

“If you were a pilgrim, you were probably pretty happy,” Nutter said.


The months leading up to the papal visit were fraught with a frothy public debate over the size of the security precautions and the huge impact the closures of interstates, streets, train stations and businesses near the papal mass would have on daily life. In the end, the papal visit ended up being the largest National Special Security Event the U.S. Secret Service had ever handled — and there have been 51 of them, including Super Bowls and national political conventions.

Nutter said it was all worth it.

“The issue is, if we want to be on the big stage …. we have to get used to not only having big events, we have to be used to a certain level of inconvenience,” Nutter said.

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Bars and restaurants across the city saw business decline steeply — by as much as 90 percent — even in places well outside the security perimeter.

Nutter said the event was never billed as being a money-maker for the city.

“I don’t know the spending habits of pilgrims,” Ntter said. “They had to eat somewhere. I don’t know that they could packed enough energy bars.”


The mayor and World Meeting of Families Executive Director Donna Crilley Farrell likely had a unique view of the events of the papal visit.

Farrell said her car followed Pope Francis in the motorcade.

“I literally lost count of the number of babies that were brought to him and were blessed,” Farrell said. “We would see the families, and to see the tears streaming across their face was so moving.”

Nutter appeared to break into tears when recounting what he said was the most moving part of the papal mass for him.

Somebody in the crowd gave up their seats so the mayor’s mother could sit in the front row.

“She burst into tears,” Nutter said. “To be able to give that sense of joy to anyone, but especially to be able to give it your mom … that was the most special moment.”

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