After Pope Francis’s last swing through the United States this weekend, Philadelphia looked like it had undergone a mass evacuation for a natural disaster.
The army was out in full force; police officers were giving orders; dozens of streets were closed to traffic; subway stations were shut down; street barricades were set up across the city and volunteers handed out water bottles to a sea of people all marching in one direction – to see the pope.
T-shirts of Rocky and the pope have been the best-selling souvenirs in Philadelphia
On top of the tight security, one of the most notable sights were the scores of Latin American flags waving across Benjamin Franklin Avenue where Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated Mass on Sunday and had attended a religious music festival on Saturday night.
At one end of the avenue lies the city’s art museum, whose steps have become a tourist icon after they were famously used in fictional boxer Rocky Balboa’s training regime in the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie. T-shirts of Rocky and the pope, as well as dolls of the pair, have become the best-selling souvenirs over this past weekend.
But the best way to ascertain the true amount of support for the pontiff was to count the flags waving across the historic city’s major avenue.
With the banners of Argentina and Mexico the most visible, Latin America was well represented with the colors of El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Venezuela also in evidence.
As he had done throughout his US trip, which had also taken him to Washington and New York, the pope spoke in Spanish for most of the service with his words translated into English on big television screens.
Eric Pintar, 50, traveled from Weston, Florida with 130 members of his church group – mostly Venezuelans, Chileans, Dominicans, Colombians, Peruvians and Mexicans – to attend the Argentinean-born pontiff’s Mass in Philadelphia.
“The pope makes all of South America proud – our extended family, as we like to call it,” said Pintar, who is also Argentinean and has been living in the United States for more than 10 years.
Sunday’s Mass marked the first time he had seen the pope in person.
As he had done throughout his US trip, the pope spoke in Spanish for most of the Mass
María del Carmen Guevara, a 48-year-old Salvadoran woman who has been living in the United States for 29 years, attended the service with her country’s flag tied around her neck.
“This is very moving,” she said as she held tightly on to a photograph of her daughters during the Mass. “The pope’s message of reconciliation and love is very deep. It touched my heart.”
Guevara, who works as a cleaning woman in New Jersey, said she prayed for peace for her home country.
English version by Martin Delfin.