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Calm before the storm in Philadelphia, last stop in Pope Francis' historic U.S. visit

Police walk along Franklin Parkway as City Hall stands in the background, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Philadelphia.

Police walk along Franklin Parkway as City Hall stands in the background, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Philadelphia.

On the eve of Pope Francis' historic visit, it appears to be the calm before the Papal storm in the City of Brotherly Love as the faithful wait in anticipation for the pontiff's arrival and law enforcement officials put the final touches on the largest security operation in the city's history.

Despite more than one million people expected to converge in Center City Philadelphia on Saturday, the atmosphere in the city is surprisingly calm, with groups of Catholics from all over the world milling about and taking in the historical sites. 

Crowds were lined up around the block to get into Independence Hall – where Francis will speak Saturday – and vendors set up stands on corners selling Vatican flags and T-shirts with Francis' face plastered on them.

"The people here have been very friendly and welcoming," Marielisa Amador, a Peruvian immigrant who was visiting Philadelphia from Miami told Fox News Latino. "It's already been a very emotional experience being here."

Along Broad Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, banners flapped in the early fall breeze welcoming Francis and the famed Monk's Cafe is offering up a "pope-pourri" of religious-themed beers for visitors to sample. Some restaurants posted life-size cutouts of Pope Francis for photo opportunities and one music group calling itself the Priests of Beat was hocking religious-themed dubstep and electronic music on the street.

“It’s exciting to have the pope visit our city and to have people celebrating him in a variety of unique ways,” Suzy Peters, who lives in Center City Philadelphia, told FNL. “I can’t think of the last time I saw so many different items related to one event.”

The biggest complaint from people in the city was the massive road and business closures due to the miles of blocked off streets. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced in August that the city would be shutting all of its Center City area to vehicle traffic beginning the evening before the pope's visit, along with closing the Vine Street Expressway – the main highway running through the heart of the city – and other expressways as much as 14 miles outside the city.

Nutter also outlined security measures that took effect on Thursday, including a patchwork of security zones with designated entry points – which will have metal detectors – and exit points.

The Secret Service also laid out additional security zones that include the two fenced-in areas where Francis is scheduled to speak: in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he will be celebrating Mass, and Independence Hall, where his is speaking about immigration. Together, the two security zones are larger than Vatican City itself.

On Friday, the Philadelphia Police Department had officers posted on most corners in Center City. Joining local police were members of almost every federal law enforcement agency from the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service to Park Rangers and Border Patrol.

Soldiers from the National Guard were also posted on many street corners on the perimeter and at checkpoints.

The Secret Service, working with the FBI and local authorities, has spent months coordinating the security effort. Secret Service officials have met multiple times with Vatican officials both in Washington and in Rome to learn more about how the pope interacts with crowds.

While the law enforcement presence was heavy, most visitors for the Papal visit said that it did not feel overwhelming and that they feel safe.

Most people said they were also not having problems moving around the city on foot, but the big concern is what the situation will be like on Saturday.

“We’ll see how it is tomorrow because I heard there are going to be a million people,” said Sara Flores from Orange County, California. “We don’t know how that is going to be.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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