(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia on Saturday, the final stop on his 10-day pastoral visit to Cuba and the United States. After meeting with Church leaders, visiting a high-security prison and greeting the city’s immigrant community, he’ll take part in a vigil and celebrate a concluding Mass for the 8th World Meeting of Families.
The city of Philadelphia has been preparing for this international gathering for the past three years since the venue was announced at the last World Meeting of Families in Milan in 2012. David O’Reilly is a veteran religion writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is travelling on the papal plane throughout the Pope’s visit. Just ahead of the trip, he sat down with Philippa Hitchen to talk about the way preparations for the Meeting has transformed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Listen to David O'Reilly's full conversation with Philippa Hitchen:
O’Reilly says for the past 10 years the city has had “a cloud over it of the most awful kind” following two grand jury investigations into the sexual abuse crisis. Those investigations revealed not only “extensive abuse of minors but also rather dreadful cover-ups by the leadership” which made “being Catholic in this city a sort of glum, dark thing for a lot of people”.
When Archbishop Chaput arrived in the city, O’Reilly continues, he also discovered all sorts of financial difficulties, including pension debts and a Catholic education system unable to support itself. O’Reilly recalls that the archbishop admitted publically “I’m not very happy to be here” and was unprepared for the announcement three years ago that his city would be the next site for the World Meeting of Families.
As the city authorities and business community began organizing for the event, O’Reilly says the archbishop also seized it as “a transformative moment” to infuse parishes with the energy created by Pope Francis and use it as a time of evangelization.The four day encounter with families from all over the world and from many different faith backgrounds has drawn over twice the number of participants who attended the previous world meeting in Milan three years ago.
Though there have been concerns over security and logistics ahead of the event, O’Reilly says the city has come together and Archbishop Chaput will be working hard in the coming years to make sure the Church keep the energy and enthusiasm of the encounter alive.