Love is our mission
Pope Francis expected to visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families . . .
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput knows well what a papal visit can do for the local church.
He witnessed it in Denver after the 1993 visit of St. John Paul II, and now he is hoping to see it again in Philadelphia following the anticipated visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families, Sept. 22-27, 2015. Its theme: Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.
Building joy and renewal
Although the Holy Father’s participation in the meeting will not be officially confirmed until spring, the Pope typically attends the triennial gathering, which celebrates and aims to strengthen Christian marriage and family worldwide. The 2015 gathering will be the eighth since John Paul started the World Meeting and the first in a U.S. city.
“Denver saw a huge outpouring of apostolic energy after World Youth Day 1993 — not miraculously or immediately, but building steam over the following decade,” said Archbishop Chaput, who became Denver’s archbishop after the papal visit to that city.
“The local church found a whole new spirit of confidence, with many more clergy and lay vocations, a new seminary and lay graduate school, and an influx of new movements, resources and charisms. Denver became a magnet for Catholics, especially young Catholics, who wanted to make a difference as disciples of Jesus Christ.
“Philadelphia,” he continued, “is ripe for that same sort of experience.” After a painful decade marked by financial troubles and fallout from the clergy sexual abuse crisis, Archbishop Chaput said he thinks a visit from Pope Francis has the power to spark a renewal in the archdiocese.
Philadelphia Legate Tim Flanagan, founder of the Catholic Leadership Institute, said his organization will be putting packages together to encourage institute alumni to come to the World Meeting. “We’ll do whatever we can to get a large number of people to participate.”
Flanagan said he, too, hopes the city and archdiocese will be revitalized by the World Meeting and papal visit. Even more, though, he thinks the event has the potential to reverberate beyond Philadelphia.
“We see it as a time of building joy and renewal in our community as well as the rest of the United States,” he said. “As people go back to their respective countries, parishes and dioceses, they’re going to be beacons of hope in bringing back the good news they’ve learned. They will be a catalyst to re- energize the Church and build on the hope Pope Francis is putting forth.”
The Francis effect
Father Bill Donovan, chaplain of Legatus’ Philadelphia Chapter, is currently in Rome as Archbishop Chaput’s representative to the Vatican for the World Meeting. He told Legatus magazine that Pope Francis has captured the imagination of people everywhere, regardless of religious affiliation.
“Many who seem disaffected with formal religion and many people of diverse faith traditions seem genuinely interested in what the Pope has to say. His message of challenging us to live the gospel with simplicity seems to resonate with many. So, initially attracted to him, men and women are invited to open their minds and hearts to hear the full message of God’s gracious plan for humanity.”
Father Donovan said the World Meeting reflects Pope Francis’ attention to the family in his young papacy. In February, he summoned the College of Cardinals into a consistory to discuss the family, and he has called two synods of bishops on the family to meet in October and again in 2015.
“The World Meeting of Families will be a unique moment for the Holy Father to directly encounter families from all over the world, listening, speaking and sharing,” he explained. “In this way, it will have a special place in the heart of the Pope over and above the three meetings with his brother bishops.”
Donna Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting and a member of the delegation that traveled to Rome in March to invite Pope Francis to Philadelphia, said the Holy Father seemed to light up when meeting their group. She said everything he has done in approving the meeting’s theme and expressing his support through the Pontifical Council for the Family indicates he is engaged in the event.
“We have every indication that the Holy Father very much wishes to come to Philadelphia,” Father Donovan added. “So we’re making plans accordingly.”
Pope Francis is tentatively scheduled to arrive Sept. 25 and to take part in the Sept. 26 Festival of Families, a cultural event that will include dialogue with one family from each continent. He would also celebrate the Sept. 27 closing Mass. A team of 15-20 business and community leaders has begun planning the event, but Farrell said she anticipates up to 10,000 volunteers will eventually be involved.
As a member of the archbishop’s finance council, Deacon Alvin Clay, president of Legatus’ Philadelphia Chapter, said he expects to be involved in some capacity in the meeting and papal visit. In 1979, the last time a pope visited the city, he remembers finding a spot on the sidewalk so he could see John Paul II.
“All I saw was him zip by in a car, but it was really exciting. The whole city was buzzing and it was very uplifting.”
Supporting the family
The World Meeting will open with a theological-pastoral congress in which experts will give presentations designed to deepen understanding of the truth of families, to enhance appreciation for the beauty of families, and to strengthen the goodness of families.
Father Donovan said the congress will address a full range of challenges and concerns facing families today. “We will have the opportunity to hear from people from every continent. Every nation and every diocese in the U.S. will send an official delegation, which will be headed by a bishop, a priest and a married couple. So we anticipate about 150 international delegations and 200 national delegations.”
Asked what a meeting like this could do to restate the Church’s teaching on marriage at a time when it’s under attack, Fr. Donovan said he believes the meeting will be a graced moment for the Church to renew God’s saving plan for humanity, which passes through the family.
“So many of our societal problems can be traced back to the failure in family structures and support,” he explained. “Getting the family right can lead not only to spiritual renewal in the Church and transformation of the world, but advances in the health and welfare of people — including promoting better culture, economics, education and a just society. All follow as evening follows the day.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.