As people rode up the escalator in Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, expecting to join large crowds in the city, a smiling Pope Francis actually appeared above them.
It’s the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities’ billboard, but it was the first pope-related thing they saw, and the energy was almost visible.
One of those excited groups was from the Diocese of Greensburg. Lauren Deemer, a parishioner of St. Bruno in Greensburg, said she had seen a pope before on a visit to the Vatican, but she expected this experience would be much different.
As people made their way down Market Street, some were greeted by a plush pope sitting on the handlebars of a University of Pennsylvania police officer. Nuns and church groups ran up to the officer as people took pictures and selfies, pointed and said, “That’s so cute!”
That was one example of how, in Philadelphia on Saturday, the pious and symbolic mixed with pop culture as Pope Francis began the last leg of his three-city U.S. trip.
A rescued Frenchie dog named Henry moseyed down the sidewalk in a Pope Francis outfit, complete with a mitre hat and a paw on its red stole.
“Pope Francis would love him,” said owner Dawn Karam, of Scranton. “He’s from a shelter.”
Henry was homeless, Karam adopted him from Adopt a Boxer Rescue.
“‘All dogs go to heaven,’ Francis said that himself,” Karam said.
One passerby walked past the dog and said, “Hey look, it’s a holy hound!”
Christmas ornaments, Vatican flags, buttons round and square, shirts, hats, onesies — it was all there. A bit closer to the city center, Teusher Chocolates of Switzerland was selling official pope chocolate. The business teamed up with the World Meeting of Families and Teusher designed the chocolates, some in the shape of Swiss guards and others in boxes in the shape of a pope.
Along the streets, there were also some freebies welcoming visitors to the city. The 7-Eleven at 22nd and Market Streets handed out free coffee because, “We honor our guests,” a worker said.
Those “guests” could number as many as a million by Sunday afternoon, when the Pope will celebrate Mass.
Some people, like Jan Swarthout of York Township, came to the city early. Swarthout said she has been in Philadelphia all week, and said she’s noticed the crowds are getting bigger and bigger every day.
“What’s strange is all the streets,” she said. There are no cars in what’s usually a high-traffic area; they’ve been replaced by crowds of people. She spoke to a police officer in the city and he said every officer in Philadelphia is working.
“I’m in line at a checkpoint, waiting,” Swarthout said around 3 p.m.
She planned to snap a picture of the pope at a parade after his scheduled remarks at Independence Mall late Saturday afternoon.
For Lt. David Godfrey and his dog Dargo of the York County Sherriff’s Department, it was a long day patrolling Septa’s Paoli station. The two went to work at 4 a.m. and returned to York around 1 p.m. Godfrey said he heard about 7,000 people had gone through the station, and numbers are expected to increase tomorrow.
“Everybody was really in a good mood, no issues at all, it went really well,” Godfrey said.
He said Dargo was ready for a nap after a long work day sniffing for explosives and guns.