The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced yesterday it will begin a yearlong jubilee at Easter Sunday Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul to observe the 200th anniversary of its founding.

Cardinal Justin Rigali - joined by the auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia and the chairman of the bicentennial, the Rev. Joseph McLoone - said the celebration marks the date when Pope Pius VI came to Philadelphia to establish the diocese. That was April 8, 1808.

Before its establishment, most of the Philadelphia area had been part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"At the same time, the diocese of Philadelphia was established, Pope Pius also created the dioceses of Boston, New York and Louisville," Rigali said.

He spoke about the "rich history" of the church in Philadelphia and said this celebration is a way to "recognize the faithfulness of the immigrants who came here and of Pope Pius, who was responsible for our establishment."

As part of the celebration, he said, the church will recommit itself in service to the community and to further solidify the theme of the bicentennial, which is "Serving the people of God in the beginning, now, and always."

"As the Archdiocese is among the largest providers of social services in Southeastern Pennsylvania, it is only fitting that we use this year to rededicate ourselves to service to all God's people," Rigali said.

He added that every parish, school and institution will join together in some act or program of service between January and March 2008.

Some of the important events that will take place between the start of the celebration and the closing Mass, to be held on April 13, 2008, at the Villanova University Pavilion are:

* A pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on April 28.

* A monthlong celebration in May commemorating the 175th anniversary of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

* A concert by the students of the Bicentennial Chorus and Orchestra at the Kimmel Center on Oct. 10.

* A migration Mass on March 2, 2008, to celebrate the immigrant roots of the Catholic Church past and present .

McLoone, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, in Chester, said the importance for the church is not just to celebrate how far it has come but also to join together and look forward.

"My hope is also that sometimes people may think that the archdiocese is only the actual structure of the Cathedral downtown," McLoone said.

"But I would hope that this celebration of the bicentennial would let everyone in the archdiocese know how important they are and how much each person contributes to the future and the building up of our community as a whole." *