Pope to meet with inmates at Curran-Fromhold

Pope Francis

Philadelphia’s political and administrative leaders may have difficulty finding the Northeast from time to time, but the head of one of the world’s largest and oldest religious institutions is planning to visit here in September.

The Vatican announced on June 30 that Pope Francis will meet with inmates and their families at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Sunday, Sept. 27, as part of his two-day stay in the Delaware Valley that will coincide with the World Meeting of Families.

As such, the 20-year-old prison at 7901 State Road will join distinguished local landmarks such as the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Independence Mall, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as destinations for the first papal visit to Philadelphia since 1979. Prior to arriving in the city, Pope Francis is planning to attend events at the White House and United States Capitol in Washington, as well as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, United Nations, World Trade Center and Madison Square Garden in New York.

The pontiff’s prison visit is scheduled tentatively for 11 a.m. in what is expected to be a private event, although more than 1.5 million people may gather on the Parkway that afternoon for Mass. Authorities have released no details of how the prison event might impact local traffic and other logistical concerns.

“As the birthplace of religious freedom, Philadelphia is a city rich in history and diversity. This itinerary recognizes the importance of those qualities and the Pope’s desire to witness them firsthand,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a printed statement. “Pope Francis’ plans for his visit to Philadelphia seamlessly integrate powerful public moments with more intimate gatherings that are deeply grace filled. It is an itinerary that says, ‘I walk with you — and so does the Lord.’ ”

Mayor Michael Nutter said in a printed statement: “From visiting with inmates and their families at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to appearances at some of Philadelphia’s most important, recognizable landmarks like Independence Hall and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis will touch the hearts and souls of millions when he visits the City of Philadelphia this September.”

According to Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world with more than 1.2 billion members.

The selection of CFCF for the papal visit is an interesting one in several ways. As the temporary home of about 2,000 inmates, it is the city’s largest prison and the primary intake facility for the entire Philadelphia Prison System, which houses about 8,000 inmates at any given time. CFCF processes about 30,000 inmate arrivals a year.

The prison was named after Patrick Curran and Robert Fromhold, who were warden and deputy warden of Holmesburg Prison in 1973 when inmates rioted and killed them both. The city closed Holmesburg Prison in 1995, the same year CFCF opened, although Holmesburg has been used as a training facility for corrections officers since then and sporadically for overflow inmate housing.

The papal visit also comes at a time when the city is looking to replace the old, decaying House of Correction next door to CFCF. Public opposition prompted City Council last month to postpone a vote on a controversial prison land-acquisition bill indefinitely.

According to CatholicPhilly.com, Pope Francis is expected to meet with male and female inmates from throughout the city’s prison system, which serves convicts who have been sentenced to less than two years incarceration as well as accused criminals who are awaiting trial. CFCF is strictly a men’s prison, but the city’s primary women’s prison, Riverside Correctional Facility, is in the same Delaware riverfront complex. The meeting will likely occur in a gymnasium.

Pope John Paul II did not come to the Northeast during his trip to Philadelphia in 1979, one year after his election by the College of Cardinals. As many as 2 million people lined the Parkway that year as the pontiff made his way to Logan Circle where he conducted Mass at the Cathedral Basilica. Pope John Paul II also visited two parish churches in the city, and held another Mass for clergy at the Civic Center.

Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at the cathedral at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, before visiting Independence Mall at about 4:45 p.m., when he will reportedly speak about immigration. He will return to the Parkway at about 7:30 p.m. for the Festival of Families, according to the Vatican’s tentative itinerary.

The pontiff will meet clergy at the seminary on Sunday morning, go to the prison then conduct the concluding Mass for the World Meeting on the Parkway at about 4 p.m. For that final event, organizers and security officials — namely the U.S. Secret Service — have proposed erecting perimeter fencing around a portion of Center City, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. Meanwhile, the mayor’s office has warned that public transportation service will be drastically altered during the papal visit, so riders should purchase tickets in advance. Also, private vehicles will not be a viable mode of transportation around papal activities, so people should be prepared to walk up to “a couple of miles” to reach destinations, the mayor’s office said. ••