When Pope Francis heads to Philadelphia in September, some 9,000 volunteers will be among the expected crowd of 2 million people, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reported. The volunteers will tackle the everyday logistics associated with a papal visit, including answering visitors' questions, giving directions and serving as interpreters.
Despite the relatively basic job duties, the process of becoming a volunteer is not a simple one. Those selected by the World Meeting of Families, which facilitated the pope's visit, had to go through a rigorous background check to participate in the event. The pope is scheduled to arrive in the United States in late September following a visit to Cuba. The planned itinerary has him visiting Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, then heading to New York City and finally stopping in Philadelphia for the weekend of Sept. 26-27. The pope is expected to celebrate Mass in front about 1.5 million faithful along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway that Sunday.
The prospective volunteers' background check covered 20 points, including their criminal and sexual offender records. "It's about a robust a background check as you can get," said Tom Klein, executive director of Verified Volunteers, which conducted the search, the Patriot-News reported. "It's on par with what a defense contractor would run on employees."
The volunteer background checks are just one part of planned public safety measures for the pope's visit. Security is expected to be extensive and large swaths of the city will be shut down. Three major highways, spanning some 30 miles of road, will be closed, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said, as the Bucks County Courier Times reported. Portions of U.S. Route 1 and Interstates 76 and 676, along with a 3 square-mile section of Center City Philadelphia [downtown] will be closed starting the night before the pope's scheduled arrival.
— Matt O'Donnell (@matt_odonnell) August 6, 2015
Getting around the Philadelphia area during the pope's visit is expected to be difficult. [Fortunately, Philadelphia sports teams -- including the Phillies, Eagles and Union -- are all playing road games that weekend.]
“You might want to treat the pope’s visit like an approaching snowstorm,” said Jana Tidwell, public affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, the regional office of the former American Automobile Association, the Courier Times reported. “Make sure you get everything you need from the grocery store ahead of time and stock up on DVDs and video games, too.”
The National Guard and 1,000 state police officers will be on hand during the trip to keep order. The pope's personal security detail will be headed by the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot-News reported.