Sunday, October 4, 2015

smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes

I have as much authority as the pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it. — George Carlin
Unless you have been in solitary confinement, or perhaps (ironically) deeply sequestered in an isolated religious sect, you know that Pope Francis visited the United States last week. Specifically, Washington, DC, New York City and, my hometown, Philadelphia. While I cannot speak for the other cites on the papal itinerary, I can attest to the preparations and subsequent atmosphere in Philadelphia.

As the summer concluded, Philadelphia began to slowly reveal plans for the pope's forty-seven hour stay in the city. An open-air mass was planned for Sunday afternoon, to be held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the famed Philadelphia Art Museum stepsserving as an altar. Projected attendance was estimated in the millions. That's right - millions! Shortly after the official announcement was made, banners (like the ones pictured above) began appearing on lamp posts through the city. As the late September date approached, SEPTA (the provider of public transportation in the City of Brotherly Love) announced extremely limited train station availability on the weekend of the pope's visit and monthly train passes would be invalid during that time period. Special passes would need to be purchased. City officials jumped on the "special restrictions" bandwagon, alerting everyone that a physical fence would be erected around an eight-block area of the Parkway, with metal detectors and other security devices to be put in place as well. A few days after those jarring announcements, a plan was divulged for clearing the streets of parked cars on a day-by-day, neighborhood-by-neighborhood schedule. Residents would have to pay an additional fee for off-site, remote parking of their "required-to-be-moved" vehicle. Traffic would be limited, and in turn, deliveries to businesses would be curtailed or altogether eliminated. It was as though the city had a job interview and was putting on its best suit to make a good impression.

The faithful - gumming up the works.
Tensions mounted and complaints increased as the pope's arrival grew nearer. But also, there was a noticeable electricity in the air. It was an historical event (religious aspect aside) and it would bring excitement to an awfully large amount of people (myself, however, not remotely included). Many people were angered by the inconvenience they'd experience, but in reality, it was just one day (Friday) that affected most people. Center-city dwellers, used to walking anyway, trekked around as usual. Those who had no interest just skipped town for an extended weekend. All in all, complaints and praise aside, the whole thing made the city look pretty good in the eyes of the rest of the country. We couldn't ask for more than that.

When lift plus thrust
is greater than load plus drag
I admit that I watched a certain amount of the festivities on television. I watched a little of the pope's speech at Independence Hall. I watched a bit of the mass at the historic Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. I watched less of the mass on the Parkway. The city looked great. The people looked happy. The local news went on a little too long and got a little too ecclesiastical, but they got the feelgood story they were after. But, I eventually got bored and turned the channel to a rerun of The Flying Nun. For a minute there, I wasn't sure if I had, indeed, changed the channel.

On Sunday night, the pope left and Philadelphia, basking in the afterglow of a job well done, slowly got itself back to normal. The local news was rife with pictures and video of the pope smiling and waving and kissing babies and laughing and waving some more. He exuded cheer and warmth and goodwill.

A few days later, the bane of a progressive-thinking modern society, Kim Davis — the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who defiantly denied same-sex couples legal marriage licences (just days after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states) because it contradicted her personal Apostolic Christian** beliefs — claimed to have met with Pope Francis during his brief stop in the nation's capital. She further claimed that the Pontiff alleged presented her with rosaries and encouraged her to "stay strong." (It should be noted that, at first, the Vatican denied this, then backpedaled and confirmed the meeting. In a blatant example of even more backpedaling, the Vatican also said that the pope met with a former student who "happens to be gay." See? The pope is still cool.... right? But, let's not forget that the Vatican still does shit like this.)

Suddenly, the population was up in arms. The new "cool pope" had disappointed! How could he take a step backward from his reformist views? His radical ideals?

Reformist views? Radical ideas? What? Are you kidding me? The guy's the leader of the Catholic Church — staunch opponents of divorce, birth control, abortion and homosexuality. Why does this sentiment come as a surprise? It's not like the surprise we got when we learned that Bill Cosby — wise and lovable ol' Dr. Huxtable — turned out to be a loathsome sexual predator. Of course that shocked us! It's not like the bombshell that hit us when O.J. Simpson was brought to trial for killing his ex-wife! He was a Heisman Trophy winner and wacky "Officer Nordberg" in the Naked Gun movie franchise, for goodness sake! We never saw that coming! But, really??? The spiritual leader of the Catholic religion, teacher of Catholic dogma and Catholic beliefs was actually proliferating those beliefs! Why is this shocking and, more to the point, why is this news? Remember when Pope Francis famously questioned "Who am I to judge?" Oh, I think we know.

Philadelphia got what it expected out of the pope's visit. And, if you think about it... I mean really think about it.... so did everyone else.

yeah, yeah - the same ones that Sylvester Stallone's punch-drunk boxer ran up 40 years ago. Fuck you, Sly, for ruining the dignity of one of the most beautiful and iconic buildings in Philadelphia.

** not a Catholic

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