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September 26, 2015

Ben Franklin Bridge a haven for runners, escapees for papal visit

Pope in Philly Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Dog Ben Franklin Bridge Sharon Lurye/PhillyVoice

A dog poses on a near-empty Ben Franklin Bridge on Saturday morning following the pope's arrival to Philadelphia.

Papal pilgrims were steady but sparse crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge from Camden Saturday morning. 

While several groups did make their way into the city by trekking the bridge, which is shut down for the weekend's festivities, those populating the area were a loose mix of runners, onlookers trying to spot a crowded Independence Hall and, in one case, escapees. 

Sam Rhoades, 36, and Meghan Butler, 37, were fleeing the city Saturday morning via the bridge after saying the papal activities were "too much."

Rhoades is a Catholic, but after spending two hours trying to find a way out of Philadelphia, decided to head into South Jersey and visit family.

pope ben franklin bridge
This couple decided to ditch the pope mania in Philly and walk to South Jersey. "It's too much," said Sam Rhoades, 36, pictured with Heather Butler, 37. (Sharon Lurye/PhillyVoice)

Others utilized the traffic-free bridge as a spot for training. 

Philadelphia resident Matt McAvoy, who is blind, was running with his friend as he prepared for the Philadelphia Marathon. He said being able to span the bridge without impediments was very convenient. 

Runners make their way across an empty Ben Franklin Bridge Saturday morning following the pope's arrival to Philadelphia. (Sharon Lurye/PhillyVoice)

The roadway was not completely void of faithful travelers. One group from Florence, New Jersey, took the River Line into Camden to walk across the bridge. 

The group of about a half-dozen said they wanted the "full Pope Francis experience," but also noted that their trip into the city was mostly empty of other pilgrims. 

The entrance to the bridge was also the scene of several groups, including one church from upstate New York and several college students, hoping for a better view of Independence Hall. 

As the morning wore on, more began trickling in. Howard Terry, who accompanied a group from West Virginia, noted that he expected more people to be crossing the bridge but expected the size of pilgrims using the bridge to come through to grow as the day continued.

From the bridge, you could hear the sound of the Mass Pope Francis was presiding over at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, including the singing of the choir. 

"It sounds very holy on this side of the river," said Lucas Tatham, also from West Virginia.