By Kevin Jones
-- Pope Francis’ official confirmation of a visit to Philadelphia in 2015 has stoked great Catholic enthusiasm and prompted hopes that a papal visit will reinvigorate the archdiocese.
“Everyone is absolutely overjoyed. There are a lot of high-fives around here, a lot of big smiles. Everyone is celebrating,” Donna Farrell, executive director of the 2015 World Meeting of Families, said in a Nov. 17 conference call with reporters.
“One of our top goals with the World Meeting of Families is to reenergize, to reinvigorate the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and even the wider Church. I think Pope Francis is the man to do it,” she added.
“That’s why, in part, we are so grateful. This means an awful lot for the archdiocese.”
Bishop John J. McIntyre, a Philadelphia auxiliary bishop, said the announcement was “a moment of great joy for us.”
“The day has been really phenomenal.”
Farrell suggested the celebration should be “short-lived” because “we have an awful lot of work to do.”
On Monday morning, Pope Francis officially announced his intention to visit the U.S.
“I wish to confirm, if God wills it, that in September of 2015 I will go to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families,” he said at Vatican City's Synod Hall during his remarks at an international colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman.
The 2015 World Meeting of Families, a global Catholic event, will take place in Philadelphia from Sept. 22-27. The world meeting takes place every three years and seeks to support and strengthen families. St. John Paul II founded the event in 1994.
Next year’s event was expected to draw tens of thousands of people even before the papal announcement. Pope Benedict XVI’s papal Mass at the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan drew more than 1 million people representing 153 countries.
Farrell said the Philadelphia meeting’s planners had not expected an announcement for months.
She noted that Pope Francis announced his visit himself, rather than announcing it in a Vatican communique.
In addition, she said, the announcement was a special moment because Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was present. Farrell said there is a “special relationship” between the archbishop and the Pope, dating back to their participation in the 1997 Synod of Bishops.
Bishop McIntyre recounted media footage of Monday’s announcement.
“While the Holy Father was making the announcement, he looked over at Archbishop Chaput and waved and nodded as he announced that he would be visiting Philadelphia,” he said.
The bishop also said people have “a lot of questions” about the event, some of which cannot yet be answered.
“When will the Pope arrive? How long will he be with us? Where will he visit while he is here? How can I attend this event or that event?”
He said these questions indicate “their real interest in this and excitement for it.”
Bishop McIntyre said most people in the archdiocese would never have the opportunity to visit Pope Francis, “so it’s just very humbling that he’ll come to us, and it’s a real source of encouragement to the Church here.”
Farrell said that ahead of the official announcement there was an atmosphere resembling “suspended animation” in the archdiocese.
She said most people asked how they could help with the World Meeting of Families. However, the second-most popular question was about Pope Francis: “Is he really coming?” they asked.
Event organizing has been going on “for months” before the announcement, Farrell observed. She said organizers have been careful about the budget for the event, which will be a “massive logistical undertaking” involving security, cleanup and emergency services, among other costs.
She told reporters she did not know whether the Pope would address the sex abuse scandals in Philadelphia.
However, she said she thinks Philadelphia will “find a lot of healing from this visit.” She pointed to Pope Francis’ “way of interacting with people, his humility, his caring presence.”
Farrell said everyone is “incredibly grateful and honored” that Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit will be in Philadelphia.
“To say that that is overwhelming is an understatement. Our gratitude is very deep,” she said.
Farrell noted that St. John Paul II’s visit to Philadelphia in 1979 had a decades-long impact.
“One can only imagine the kind of impact that Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia is going to have in the years and decades to come,” she said.
The 2015 meeting's theme is “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” The meeting will include speakers and breakout sessions. Keynote speakers include Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, Cardinal Robert Sarah, professor Helen Alvare, and Dr. Juan Francisco de la Guardia Brin and Gabriela N. de la Guardia.
The Philadelphia meeting will mark the first time that the event will be held in the United States. Registration for the event opened Nov. 10.
The World Meeting of Families website is www.worldmeeting2015.org.