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Pope in Philly: One Faith’s Celebration is Another’s Inconvenience

Pope in Philly: One Faith’s Celebration is Another’s Inconvenience
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Hugh Taft-Morales didn’t expect this.

“I knew it was going to be big,” he said. “It’s well beyond what I thought it was going to be. Clearly, Philadelphia’s got a lot of Catholic tradition and heritage.”

Taft-Morales is not Catholic, nor is he from Philadelphia. The leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia, he grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. Before getting more involved in ethical culture, he spent 25 years teaching in Washington, D.C., where he escaped to this weekend to get away from the papal visit.

Hugh Taft-Morales discusses his views of the papal visit as well as the Ethical Humanist Society's at the Ethical Society building in Rittenhouse Square.

Hugh Taft-Morales discusses his views of the papal visit as well as the Ethical Humanist Society’s at the Ethical Society building in Rittenhouse Square.

For Taft-Morales, he had the privilege of avoiding the influx of pilgrims, when others didn’t. Many did vacate the city, but others stayed. Whether they attended the festivities at Independence Mall, worked or stayed at home, their daily routines were disrupted by the city’s unprecedented security measures.

“It is unreasonable for some people to say you shouldn’t complain,” Taft-Morales said. “For some people, a lot of the people who live in (Rittenhouse Square), it’s an inconvenience, but it’s just an inconvenience.”

Within the security zone, restaurants reported slow business throughout the week and SEPTA said ridership was lower than expected Saturday. Tommy DiNic’s, a sandwich shop in Reading Terminal Market, complained about business on its Twitter account.

While Steven Rosenberg, the chief marketing officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, believes the “economic impact can’t outweigh the negative business impact,” the World Meeting of Families will benefit the city.

“It’s great PR for the city,” Rosenberg said. “Every city can always use great PR. We have an unbelievably great hospitality community here led by great leader. We’re going to go be telling a lot of great stories about the pope being in Philadelphia for a long time. So, there’s some inconveniences. We all have to deal with inconveniences every day of our lives. It’s OK.”

Tourists can't leave Philadelphia without their pope t-shirts after hearing the mass on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

Tourists can’t leave Philadelphia without their pope t-shirts after hearing the mass on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

The JFGP was not directly impacted by Pope Francis’ visit, according to Rosenberg, who added the organization was closed today and tomorrow for Sukkot. There were some potential issues with parking in the city for the Jewish community during Yom Kippur, which was last Wednesday, but the problems were avoided.

“There were seven Center City synagogues that are within the no-parking zone,” he said. “We were able to work with the city to allow the people to park. The city was very accommodating to allow those people to park as close to or outside the synagogues as possible.”

As for Sukkot, Rosenberg said there are no special arrangements with the city and the closures might impact Sukkot services.

“People will have to figure out how to get where they’re going,” he said. 

The William Way LGBT Community Center held a “Celebration of Inclusive Family” for the LGBTQ community. R. Eric Thomas, program director, said earlier this month one of the challenges the center faced was how people were going to get there. Located at 1315 Spruce St., it was in the traffic box. Speaking about the center’s event, Thomas said it wasn’t “anti-Catholic.”

“It’s an event that is pro belief,” he said.

Vendors get creative, selling different flags and handmade rosaries, instead of the typical t-shirts, cutouts, and pins.

Vendors get creative, selling different flags and handmade rosaries, instead of the typical t-shirts, cutouts, and pins.

One of the groups who were in Philadelphia for the papal visit was Equally Blessed.

“They’re a group of LGBTQ-identified Catholics so we reached out to them,” Thomas said. “You’re welcomed here. Hang out, charge your phones, do whatever you need to do.'”

As an organization, the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia is non-theist, meaning it doesn’t take a position on God, Taft-Morales said.

But the community is diverse, with a multitude of views – from atheists to agnostics to theists, so the papal visit is a mixed bag.

Outside of 30th Street Station, vendors try to sell pope memorabilia such as Pope Francis cutouts and vatican flags.

Outside of 30th Street Station, vendors try to sell pope memorabilia such as Pope Francis cutouts and vatican flags.

“Some are excited, some are tired of it,” Taft-Morales said. “And some are angry that this is getting so much attention when there are bigger issues, like Philadelphia schools.”

Away from the society’s stance, Taft-Morales worries about hero worship, as it creates the possibility of passing the burden on to someone else, he said.

“Because humanism in general,” he said, “assumes that every human being is responsible for making the world a better place. We’re getting to a point where people are going to have to make fundamental changes in how they live, so I worry about the hero worship. If people put the Pope on a pedestal, they might not act to change the world. The Pope is a human being like any of us.”

– Text and images by Tom Dougherty and Moira Wilson.

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