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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/1/15

Pope Francis in Philadelphia

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Pope Francis standee outside Swiss House Bakery
Pope Francis standee outside Swiss House Bakery
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A pope zone cut Philly in two. Hundreds of soldiers poured in. Throughout downtown and Old City, they manned every intersection, including alleys. Since 9/11, Americans have been conditioned to see soldiers in battle fatigues on their sidewalks, but this is unprecedented for peacetime Philadelphia. At least these troops were not armed. Only the cops were. Concrete barriers, heavy steel fences and security check points hindered both car and foot traffics. Hearing movie-acclimated blades rotating overhead, citizens looked up to gawk at choppers. Pope Francis would not arrive until the next day.

On 9/26/15, the Pope's first day in Philly, I found in Washington Square a shabbily dressed black man fishing for nickels, dimes and quarters that had been tossed by tourists into the fountain. His entire body was soaked from the sprays. Just over a block away, Pope Francis was about to appear to cheers, screams and gasps from earnest believers, half doubters and curiosity seekers. Can you tell a saint from a Satanist? Pope from antichrist? A Pennsylvania congressman had made the news for grabbing a glass of water half drank by Pope Francis. He and his family then sipped precious gulps from it.

Philly businesses were duped into thinking the Pope's visit would bring grace to their depressed cash registers. Among the signs, "POPES EAT FREE," "Pope-fully, you're hungry," "Celebrate the arrival of Pope Francis with our cross shaped soft pretzels." Nuts to You had popcorn in clear plastic bags with an image of Pope Francis. Grim faced street vendors wandered around pushing Pope T-shirts, Vatican flags and bottled water. Burger King had a Papal Visit menu with jacked up prices. A double cheese burger, small fries and bottle of water cost $8. Teuscher offered the "Official Chocolate of Pope Francis' Visit." A lady had her toy mutt dressed up like the Pope. On its mitre, two golden paws flanked the golden cross.

On the outside walls of Dirty Frank's, there's a mural by David McShane that depicts a bunch of famous Franks. Recently added, Pope Francis now hobnobs with Frankenstein, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin, etc. She would sing, rather tediously, I thought, to the Pontiff on a magnificent stage. Her impromptu dance steps at the end made it all worthwhile, though.

I first stumbled into Frank's more than thirty years ago, before I was old enough to drink even. I've written poems about this beer trough and know it better than my mother's house. To get the lowdown from the locals on Pope Francis, I went to Frank's and spent hours there over two days.

I spotted my old friend Karen Rodewald smoking outside. We walked in together. Karen has taught photography at University of the Arts, UPenn and/or Drexel since 1996, but she has no tenure since she hasn't shown enough. To make ends meet, Karen also cleans a bar once a week, does catering and sells cards at various shops. For the Pope's visit, Karen hit the streets to sell 3-D Pope Francis cards. "It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'm just not a hustler." She didn't do too well.

Karen confessed, "I'm not a Christian and not a Catholic, although I was baptized as a Catholic. I like him because he seems like a very good human being. He's a good example as a human being to the rest of us. He's lived a very modest life and he wants everybody to think collectively, that we're all taking care of each other, that there's a responsibility to being alive" that I appreciate. He's really a good voice right now.

I wasn't aware of any other Pope, it's like off my radar, but his voice seems to be louder and more resonant than most people in that powerful position. His modesty and openness seem similar to the Dalai Lama for me. He's really asking people to be better human beings."

And hey, there's Clark DeLeon in his colonial suit! I've known Clark as long as I've known Karen. Unlike with Karen, however, I've never committed adultery with Clark in my heart. (Matthew 5:28) For twenty years, Clark wrote a daily article for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Before I came across Clark in Dirty Frank's around 1984, I had read him. Everybody did. With newspaper readership rapidly declining, Clark doesn't write nearly as much, so must work as a tour guide at Independence Mall. Sometimes, he takes people to Kensington to see Rocky's fictional home. Clark has also taught writing at Graterford Prison. He's a big, rugby playing dude.

Clark, "The commentators are talking about his message as being more favorable to a liberal approach, but actually, it has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. I love what he said about the aim of government is to seek the common good.

I think the Pope's visit has an effect, but I don't think it's gonna affect Washington. It affects people, meaning the rest of the world, in America, wherever he touches. He has a proven touch. I mean, he's touched Dirty Frank's. He's on the wall of Dirty Frank's!

I'm a cultural Catholic, which means I went to Catholic school, my kids are baptized Catholic. I don't go to church, but I feel a basic connection to the Catholic church. It's like an ethnicity. It's the food I eat. They eat fish on Fridays. It's the way I grew up.

There's a lot to the Catholic Church that I admire, and a lot I can't stand. Pope Francis represents what I admire.

He can't just turn around and say, 'Change everything,' but I think he's moving in that direction, and people should be pleased. It's the symbolic power of this papacy" He's representing poor people, the people that are least powerful. The history of the Latin American church, the Jesuits especially, they were the first ones to stand up against the European conquerors, they stood for the indigenous people, and he comes from Argentina, so he's a part of that tradition.

He's a very good politician. He knows who he is. It means he knows his position. He was a different guy in Argentina. People called him dour. He had a very serious and frowning face. Today, you see the Pope in your mind's eyes and he's smiling, so maybe he was liberated by becoming Pope. Maybe he realizes, now is the time I can be on my mission and he feels the freedom to do it. When he was elected Pope, the first thing he did was pay his hotel bill. He went to Rome and took a small room, he didn't take the palace, then he served mass the next day at the Vatican to the guys who were like the janitors. When the people in charge found out, they were like, the Pope doesn't do that, but he says mass everyday, to the workers at the Vatican. I like him for that."

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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