More than 800,000 pilgrims flocked to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway yesterday to watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the “Rocky” museum). They poured into security checkpoints that took hours to get through. They were prohibited from bringing in things like ammunition, explosives, firearms, and selfie sticks but also things like apples and other hard fruit, because of the potential for those things to be used as projectiles.
None of the pilgrims going through the checkpoints had any chance of being anywhere close enough to the pope to chuck an apple or a battery or anything else at him. Better safe than sorry, right? On MSNBC over the weekend, Chris Matthews gushed over how much “style” the Vatican’s own security detail had. He told the story of being able to see Bill Clinton walking through Lafayette Park (across the street from the White House) and how you used to be able to walk into Capitol Hill to see your Congressman, before “everything changed.”
That security deserves higher prioritization today than it did before 9/11 is a widely held belief that goes without scrutiny in some circles, including much of mainstream media. The pope’s visit to the United States could’ve been a powerful moment to challenge that orthodoxy. A man who puts his life into God’s hands could spurn the Secret Service’s. A pope who calls Christian gunmakers “hypocrites” could pump the brakes one driver of demand for firearms—the ever expanding theater of U.S. security services. Instead, the papal visit produced the largest security operation in U.S. history. Pilgrims got to test their faith not just with the journey to Philadelphia, but the journey through the checkpoint too.
My wife and I, who have been living in Philly for the last year and a half, drove down to West Philly yesterday to try to walk over to see the papal Mass. A national guard at one of the security checkpoints pointed to a man holding a Chinese flag about halfway between where we were and where the security check started. It had taken him an hour to get there, the guard said, so we went to a local restaurant to watch the Jets fail to get the Eagles to 0-3. The first one was closing because business had been so quiet. The second was open and we were the only patrons there the entire time. The bicyclists had a blast—many normally ride through the streets like there are no cars, but this time there actually weren’t. The streets were closed to vehicles for miles around where the Mass was being held.