A global spotlight on the city
Update: The Vatican confirmed this morning that September 22 - 27, 2015, will be the official dates for World Family Day to be held in Philadelphia.
Catholic leaders will join city officials on Monday to announce dates and preparations for World Family Day - an event expected to bring the pope to Philadelphia, along with tens of thousands of visitors from across North America.
The once-every-three-years gathering lands here in 2015, its first time in the United States.
Its scope requires enormous planning and fund-raising, the latter a challenge to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, still struggling with financial problems.
"Strong families mean a strong society," Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in an interview, predicting a high-enthusiasm, high-emotion convocation.
Church officials here said they could not reveal the specific dates in advance; that information is scheduled to be released from Rome at 6 a.m. Monday. A knowledgeable person outside the church hierarchy identified the dates as Sept. 22-27, 2015.
A news conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at archdiocese headquarters in Center City.
Mayor Nutter and Gov. Corbett are to be honorary chairmen of the 2015 event. It's expected they and Chaput will travel to Rome in the spring or summer to meet with the pope and discuss plans with Vatican coordinators.
Chaput, asked whether the pope would attend, said, "I'd be surprised if he doesn't come, but I can't promise that."
Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world by resigning this month, had
named Philadelphia as the next site of the gathering and said he planned
to attend. His arrival here would have marked the first papal visit to
Philadelphia since John Paul II's phenomenally popular outdoor Mass on
the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in October 1979, estimated to have drawn
one million people.
World Family Day, formally called the World Meeting of Families, was
established by John Paul II in 1992 to strengthen the bonds of marriage
The event features discussions and teachings on children, divorce,
religious life, and other topics. The 2012 gathering in Milan drew tens
of thousands, and at times hundreds of thousands, from places as diverse
as Greece, Madagascar, Brazil, and New York.
The economic impact on the Philadelphia region is hard to estimate at
present, but is sure to be profound, said Paula Butler, vice president
of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.
"It's going to be huge," she said.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological
Center at Georgetown University, said local reaction to a papal visit
would be large and dramatic.
"Philadelphia is an old Catholic town," he said. "It's still probably
one of the more traditional Catholic areas of the country. It's still
got some Catholic ethnic neighborhoods."
Benedict, 85, will step down Friday, Feb. 28, and a new pope is expected
to be chosen by Easter.
"The fact Benedict chose Philadelphia is a way of saying Philadelphia is
crucial to the church in the U.S.A. and beyond the U.S.A.," said Rocco
Palma, the Philadelphia writer of the authoritative Catholic blog
Whispers in the Loggia, at http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/.
"It's a good thing for the city."
Palma said when Philadelphia was announced in June2012, he expected a
"Because the church had taken the greatest drubbing in this city that
had been seen in this country in the last half-century. And this diocese
is in need of the greatest remaking in the last half-century."
Slipping attendance at Mass, operating deficits, and falling parochial
school enrollment says something, he said. "It doesn't say something
about the faith; it says something about the way it is expressed. They
need a shake-up from the ground up."
Some observers have called the award of World Family Day a sign of papal
support for the Philadelphia Archdiocese as it struggles with a bruising
clergy sex-abuse scandal. That includes last year's landmark trial of
Msgr. William J. Lynn, who investigated misconduct by priests and
recommended their assignments to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua. Jurors
found Lynn endangered children by letting former priest Edward Avery
stay in public ministry in the 1990s despite finding that he had
molested a teen boy.
Chaput said the archdiocese and the Catholic Church had worked to
prevent sexual abuse and to establish procedures for people to report
and intervene if it does happen. At the same time, the archdiocese has
sought to solve its financial problems and to blunt the impact of school
closings and parish mergers.
"The people of Philadelphia feel we're heading toward a better future,
and the quicker we can get there the better," he said.
Another goal of World Family Day is for families from different
countries to meet and share information about their lives. A portion of
registration fees will go to pay for people from poorer nations to
It's unclear what staging the event would cost, Chaput said. But
providing the infrastructure for an international gathering will be
expensive. The church will seek to raise money nationally.
Having the gathering here offers "an opportunity for the church in
Philadelphia to be proud of itself again" by providing a great setting
and serving the community, church, and attendees, he said.
Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow
on Twitter @JeffGammage. Inquirer staff writer Daniel Rubin contributed to this article.