World Meeting of Families - The Lay of the Land

(photo: Register Files)


That’s what I sent back when my editor asked me to give him the lay of the land on my first day of World Meeting of Families.

I arrived in Philadelphia about midday, and after settling into my hotel room, getting basic information about making my way around Philly and working through some technical glitches with the hotel Internet, I headed off to the Pennsylvania Convention Center downtown.


That’s the second word I’d use to describe the lay of the land here. All you need do is mention “World Meeting of Families,,” and folks will jump to your assistance. Perhaps this is the way Philadelphia always is – it is the “City of Brotherly Love” – but I think that World Meeting of Families gives it another dimension.

Take, for example, Aileen and Melvin, a couple originally from California and now living in California. I met them at the train stations, and asked one simple question: “Are you going to World Meeting of Families?”

Yes. In fact, they had already been to the Convention Center, registered, returned to the hotel to drop off their loot, and were heading back downtown to take in one of the wonderful museum attractions and have dinner.

Before I knew it, they were coaching me in navigating the train system and what to expect in Registration and beyond. But, that wasn’t enough. They offered to go with me to the Convention Center and then go on their way to the other part of downtown. And they did.

They also so cautioned me about something very important.

Each attendee is given a WMOF T-shirt and a backpack full of treasures. A HEAVY backpack full of treasures.

They weren’t kidding.

Added to the weight of my own backpack full of media stuff, the WMOF pack filled with WMOF goodies was weighty indeed.

It wasn’t just Melvin and Aileen who were joyful and friendly, it was everyone I met.

The Convention Center was far quieter than I expected it to be. After a few minutes’ observation, I realized why.

People were moving in an out, registering and getting their backpacks, in such an orderly fashion that the flow kept going without the least bit of disturbance. For as many people who entered, as many people left, with a legion volunteers who were always smiling, patient, and ready to help.

Except for at the Vatican, I’ve never seen so many priest’s collars and religious habits in the same place at once. It was awesome.

Religious and lay persons alike, everyone was filled with joyful anticipation of the days ahead. It was evident in how they treated each other, and even more evident on their faces. They simply beamed.

This was certainly visible in the Convention Center, but also out on the streets. Pilgrims with their green WMOF badges are everywhere, chattering, laughing, and watching out for one another. Shopkeepers and restauranteurs are putting up their “Welcome Pope Francis” signs, and that adds to the festive atmosphere.

So, it was only natural that I gulped down my sandwich at the sub shop in the train station so that the young couple with the baby could have my table. That poor mom was so exhausted and so grateful I thought she was going to cry. Her husband seemed shocked by my offer.

He shouldn’t be. He and his family will see many more kindnesses like that in the days to come

In Philadelphia, we are waiting in joyful anticipation. And as we wait, we’re helping one another so that we all have the best possible experience.