Philadelphia delegation lands in Rome, gets to work

Brian P. Tierney, adviser to the World Meeting of Families, snaps a photo of members of the Philadelphia delegation planning Pope Francis´ Philadelphia visit outside their hotel. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Brian P. Tierney, adviser to the World Meeting of Families, snaps a photo of members of the Philadelphia delegation planning Pope Francis' Philadelphia visit outside their hotel. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

ROME - "Omnia parata sunt," the Rev. William Donovan declared on a perfect evening outside the amber-colored Sofitel boutique hotel where he and 35 other people from Philadelphia are staying to finalize plans for Pope Francis' visit.

The loose Latin translation: "Everything is prepared."

Not everything, but organizers say that three months out, fund-raising is on track to hit the target of $45 million, and planning is 90 percent complete for the papal visit Sept. 26 and 27, and the World Meeting of Families Congress Sept. 22 to 25.

That is a far different feeling from Mayor Nutter's last trip here, in March 2014, when he and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput formally invited Francis to attend.

The delegation, headed by Nutter and Chaput, is in Rome this week to get down to granular planning as well as promote the event in a series of news conferences. It is not scheduled to meet the pope, but will attend the Wednesday public appearance in St. Peter's Square.

Monday, the delegation's first day in Rome, started when its red-eye flight landed at Fiumicino Airport around 9:30 a.m.

Once settled at the five-star hotel near the Spanish Steps, Nutter and Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, met with reporters on a seventh-floor terrace with spectacular views of the city.

"Last year we knew - but we couldn't say - that [the pope's] inclination was to come," Nutter said. "This time around, I'm most looking forward to getting into those meetings, to get the plan up into the high-90th percentile, even though we'll leave knowing that there will be some changes."

Crilley Farrell said fund-raising was on track to hit its $45 million mark, though she would not provide an updated number. In February, the nonprofit, which is paying for and organizing the conference and papal visit, announced it had raised $30 million.

The funding success is due in large part to nondenominational, broad-based support, Farrell said. Three of the six members of the World Meeting of Families executive team are Jewish, Farrell said. Some donors send thousands of dollars, and others mail in $5 checks, with a subject line "for bringing the pope to Philadelphia."

"It's always been very important from the very beginning that this not just be for Catholics, not just be for Philadelphians, but be for everyone," she said.

The delegation includes World Meeting president Robert J. Ciaruffoli as well as business leaders including, the CEO of Wawa, Chris Gheysens, and of Independence Blue Cross, Dan Hilferty.

City representatives include Desiree Peterkin-Bell, director of communications; Samantha Phillips, director of emergency management; Joseph Sullivan, chief inspector; Jazelle Jones, deputy managing director; and Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison.

Day One ended a little bleary-eyed for the jet-lagged group, sipping cocktails with Ken Hackett, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Hackett has a 40-year career at Catholic Relief Charities, working on famine relief in Ethiopia and recovery efforts following the Rwanda genocide, in the Bosnian and Kosovo emergencies, and after the Haiti earthquake.

The delegation's four-day travel plans also include tours of the Vatican Gardens, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the Apostolic Palace, and a private Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.

Meetings are scheduled with the mayor of Rome and the head of police in Vatican City. A news conference at the Vatican's press office will be Thursday with updates on the event.

Tuesday, an announcement is expected on who will perform at the free Saturday evening "Festival of Families" conference on the Parkway.

Donovan, a Havertown native, left life as a CPA to go into the priesthood. Now with the archdiocese, he was selected by Chaput to act as the liaison between the Philadelphia group and the Pontifical Council for the Family, so he has been spending much time in the Eternal City.

"This is the culmination of all the preparations, a chance to meet one another and go over everything," he said, "knowing we're ready."


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