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Flocks of faithful will jam Benjamin Franklin Parkway for Pope Francis's Mass Sept. 27, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia will be celebrating two firsts: The first visit by Pope Francis to the U.S., and the first World Meeting of Families to be held stateside. Running Sept. 22–27, the meeting of Catholic families will explore a theme chosen by Francis himself, "Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive." Special religious tours and exhibits surround both landmark events, and dozens of religious sites can round out a visit to the City of Brotherly Love. Here's a sampler from the city's marketer, Visit Philadelphia.
Touring shrines and churches
Philadelphia Trolley Works offers a new Catholic Shrine Tour to four of the most popular spots: National Shrine of St. John Neumann, National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel, National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia and Museum of the Miraculous Medal Shrine. The St. John Neumann Shrine houses the remains of the bishop, who's credited with establishing the diocesan Catholic school system in America. In the basement of the baroque church, a glass altar allows viewing of St. John Neumann's (1811–1860) body, set off by a fiberglass likeness of his face.
St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), known for her work with African- and Native Americans, lies at rest in her shrine at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Pilgrims can place prayer requests into an Apache Burden Basket.
The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia honors the saint often called "The Peacemaker."
The Museum of the Miraculous Medal Shrine contains 500 pieces of religious art from around the wor ld, inc luding an or igina l Miraculous Medal from 1830.
The Catholic Shrine Tour will run Sept. 17–24. Philadelphia Trolley Works also offers a 90-minute Faith, Family and Freedom walking tour to sites along the Ben Franklin Parkway, Old City and other locations, Sept. 13–15 and Sept. 28. The Compline Lantern Light Tour leads participants to historic churches, synagogues and graveyards by the glow of candle light, Sept. 13–15 and Sept. 28. Visit phillytour.com.
Museums program for the Papal visit
Penn Museum's Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World features two treasures: one of the world's oldest papyrus fragments of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 3rd century C.E., and a Sumerian clay tablet, 17th century B.C.E., with the earliest version of the Mesopotamian flood story, which closely parallels the biblical tale of Noah. The Sacred Spaces exhibit captures Byzantine church interiors in Turkey. Through Sept. 27. Visit penn.museum.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art offers daily, guided tours of the collection's Christian art highlighted by van der Weyden's Crucifixion, van Eyck's Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata and Tanner's The Annunciation. Self-guided walking tours of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries feature masterpieces of Christian art with an emphasis on Pope Francis' namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi. Sept. 22–27. Visit philamuseum.org.
When Father Edwin Gallagher, the Catholic chaplain at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary, witnessed an inmate painting in his cell, he invited him to decorate his office. These fragile paintings, now restored, evoke the life of one inmate who was transformed by his Catholic faith. Sept. 20–24. Visit easternstate.org.
A special fall exhibition at the National Constitution Center explores the roots of religious liberty in America. Historic documents illuminate the interplay between church and state and the creation of the First Amendment. Special tours and discounts during World Meeting of Families week. Visit constitutioncenter.org.
Discovering Philadelphia's Catholic roots
Old St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church is Philadelphia's oldest Catholic community. Founded and still staffed by Jesuits, the community has been in continuous existence since 1733. Open for self-guided tours daily. Visit oldstjoseph.org.
Old St. Mary's Church, built in 1763, was the second Roman Catholic institution in the city, figuring prominently in the life of Colonial and Revolutionary Philadelphia. The church was the site of the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence and became the first Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Diocese of Philadelphia (1810–38).
Members of the Continental Congress officially attended services here four times from 1777 to 1781, and though not members of the congregation, both George Washington and John Adams worshiped here on a few occasions. Old St. Mary's historical cemetery includes the graves of John Barry, Father of the American Navy, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' greatgreat- grandfather, Michael Bouvier (1792–1874). Open daily. Visit oldstmary.com.
Since 1864, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paulhas served as the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The domed Roman-Corinthian cathedral contains mosaics, medallions, Italian marble columns and a crypt holding the remains of most of Philadelphia's bishops. Visit cathedralphila.org.
Almost churched out? Take a break at pastoral Laurel Hill Cemetery in North Philadelphia, the first cemetery to be designated a National Historic Landmark. It's free to ramble among the final addresses of six Titanic passengers and 40 Civil War generals. Who knows, you might become so entranced that you'll stay until Oct. 16 for the 11th annual cemetery fundraiser, The Gravedigger's Ball. Visit thelaurelhillcemetery.org.
When you go
The eighth World Meeting of Families will run Sept. 22–27, culminating in the Festival of Families Sept. 26. Pope Francis is scheduled to say Mass 4 p.m., Sept. 27, on the Parkway. Visit Visitphilly.com.
Philadelphia is set to be Pope Francis's final U.S. stop, after he addresses Congress in Washington, D.C., and the UN General-Assembly in New York.
Catch up with Betsa's travels at globespinners.com. Her new travel app for smart phones and iPad is "Cincinnati Essentials."