PHILADELPHIA – Want a close-up view of Pope Francis celebrating Mass in Philadelphia? Three weeks before his visit, planners have announced you'll need a ticket to do so.
Organizers said tickets will be required to get within five blocks, or about a half mile, of the altar on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sept. 27.
The same requirement will be in place when Francis attends the closing ceremony of the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families a day earlier.
Tickets are being distributed to the 219 parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, as well as surrounding parishes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Some church social service programs will also get tickets, as will other faith communities, church officials said.
The ticketing announcement comes just a week after a new marketing campaign, "I'll Be There," was unveiled to encourage attendance at the papal events, driven in part by fears that months of discussions about tight security restrictions had scared many people away from attending. Officials have said hotel bookings, rail pass purchases and charter bus signups have all been running lower than expected.
Church officials have estimated that as many as 1.5 million people will attend the papal Mass.
"These plans were put in place to ensure that representatives representing the vibrant life and ongoing work of the archdiocese were part of these joyful events," Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, said late Wednesday. "It is important to be clear that the announcement of limited ticketing does not limit participation in these events in any way. There is plenty of room for all who wish to attend."
The Philadelphia Archdiocese serves about 1.4 million parishioners in the city and four surrounding counties. Church officials have not said how many tickets are being distributed for the two main public events on the parkway. It also wasn't immediately clear whether any tickets would be available the week of the events or on-site.
Forty huge TV screens will capture the events for those not close to the stage or altar.
Tickets will also be required for the pope's Sept. 26 speech on immigration and religious freedom outside Independence Hall. About 25,000 are being set aside for parishes serving mostly immigrants, and 5,000 will be made available for the general public, planners said.
The public tickets for the speech are to be made available on a first-come, first-served basis online on Sept. 8, with more details to be announced Friday.
The pope's Philadelphia visit will close out his first trip to the U.S., with his first stops in Washington and New York. Church officials said all the papal events in those cities will also be ticketed, including a newly added procession through Central Park.
Philadelphia will, however, be the site of the biggest public events.
Miles of security fencing will be erected around the parkway, with visitors required to go through airport-style metal detectors to get inside. A secondary vehicle-free buffer zone will also be established.
State and local officials are also closing 30 miles of highway in Philadelphia and New Jersey to all but emergency vehicles and pilgrim-ferrying charter buses. They're turning a major bridge from New Jersey into a pedestrian walkway and banning cars from driving on downtown streets closest to the events.