PHILADELPHIA — Just hours after the official announcement from the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Monday morning that the city has been officially chosen to host the eighth World Meeting of Families in 2015.
This marks the first time the event, established by Blessed John Paul II in 1994, will be held in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are expected to attend. The event was last hosted in 2012 by Milan, Italy, where more than 1 million people from 153 nations gathered for a Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.
The announcement represents positive news for an archdiocese that has been unsettled recently by sexual-abuse scandals and Catholic school closings.
Faithful Catholics, Archbishop Charles Chaput explained, long for an opportunity “to show their love of God and his Church to the world, to deepen God’s presence in their own families and to share Jesus Christ with a world that urgently needs him.”
“These events also become moments of grace,” said the archbishop, adding that the region's Catholic community is “in need of healing and renewal.”
The meeting, which seeks to celebrate the good news of the family and its intrinsic value to the good of society, will be held Sept. 22-Sept. 27, 2015.
“The more we encourage and support the integrity of families, the healthier society becomes,” said Archbishop Chaput.
In a standing-room-only conference room crowded with cameras and media, Archbishop Chaput, in response to a question, stated that he fully expected the next pope to attend the meeting in Philadelphia. But, he reminded reporters, he couldn’t promise that because the next pope has not been selected.
One reporter inquired whether this could be the first visit to America by the next pope. Smiling, Archbishop Chaput noted that if the next pope is Cardinal Timothy Dolan he still might be in America next week.
Not Just for Catholics
In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the Philadelphia region, which is home to an estimated 1.5 million Catholics. But, as the Philadelphia archbishop pointed out, the meeting isn’t only for Catholics.
“The World Meeting of Families is meant to be a gift not just to Catholics in Philadelphia, but to every person of good will in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas,” he said. “Everyone with a generous heart is welcome to be a part of it.”
Archbishop Chaput, in a lighthearted moment, said, “I’ve been asked why the Holy Father picked Philadelphia. The answer is simple. His Holiness didn't tell me.”
But he quickly pointed out Philadelphia’s “uniquely rich” history as one of the birthplaces of the political ideals of human rights, religious freedom and human dignity. The issue of religious liberty has been close to Pope Benedict’s heart for many years, as he has spoken about it many times throughout his pontificate.
“He’s always seen the strength of the family as a guarantee of human maturity and freedom,” noted Archbishop Chaput of the Pope. “The more we encourage and support the integrity of families, the healthier society becomes.”
He also pointed to Philadelphia as being home to two great American saints — Mother Katharine Drexel and Bishop John Neumann, whose legacies of Catholic education and service continue today in Catholic ministries.
Archbishop Chaput told reporters that the cost of the event in Milan was in excess of 10 million euros, or more than $15 million, and that a lay board would be working in coming months with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to raise funds for the expenses associated with the meeting.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which organizes the meeting, has promised support throughout the coming months of planning for the international event.
The logo for the eighth World Meeting of Families was also unveiled on Feb. 25 — a bell with a cross and five distinct figures, designed to reflect “family unity, the city itself and also the city’s role as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States,” according to a statement by the archdiocese.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Baptist, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Catholic, will be honorary co-chairmen of the event. They will also travel with the archbishop to Rome after the election of the new pope for briefing sessions with the Pontifical Council for the Family.
In a statement, Corbett said, “As a Catholic, it is a pleasure to work with Archbishop Chaput as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia prepares to welcome tens of thousands of families from around the world in September 2015. This is truly an exciting moment for our commonwealth.”
Said Mayor Nutter, “We are delighted and honored that Philadelphia has been selected to host the World Meeting of Families by the Holy Father. Family is the cornerstone of society, and strengthening it serves all of our people in Philadelphia — Catholic and non-Catholic alike. I look forward to working with Archbishop Chaput, Gov. Corbett and the citizens of Philadelphia to deliver a truly memorable event for the tens of thousands of families we will welcome to our city in September 2015.”
“Family is essential to the fabric of our society,” he added. “This event will stir interesting and important conversation.”
Matt Archbold writes from Philadelphia.
He blogs at NCRegister.com.