PHILADELPHIA — Pope Francis does not arrive until tomorrow and the center city is in near lockdown.
Parts of normally bustling Market and Broad streets — main thoroughfares that converge at City Hall — were absent of vehicular traffic this morning other than an occasional security vehicle or motorcycle police patrols.
Concrete and steel barricades lined streets. Pedestrians had to wind through the barricades at intersections.
Traffic was limited to side streets, blocks from the main drags. Many businesses and offices were closed. Some had intended to be open, but power was out in some locales, forcing them to close anyway.
It was unknown if the power outage was planned or an accident.
Pedestrians were taking it in stride, but many seemed to be from the World Meeting of Families that was winding down at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The closed streets did not seem to bother the 150 people waiting in line outside of St. John the Evangelist Church, where the relics of St. Maria Goretti were on display.
A 30-minute walk around the center city revealed that along with dozens of Philadelphia Police officers, uniformed personnel from Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the fatigue-clad U.S. Customs and Border Protection were patrolling the streets.
If I had not known that I was in Philadelphia to cover the pope’s visit, I would have thought I was in a country that had undergone a military coup. The security presence was far stronger than any I had seen anywhere in the world, including countries whose leader kept a tight grasp on the population.
In contrast, security in Washington, where I had covered papal events Sept. 23-24, posed minor inconveniences. Except for security checkpoints, the presence of law enforcement was minimal. Street closures were kept to those essential to papal travels and occurred only hours before Pope Francis was to appear.
True, Washington regularly deals with the visit of world leaders, but I wonder if what I’m seeing in Philadelphia this weekend is a bit of overkill, especially because the pope isn’t even in town yet.