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Francis in Philly?

Awaiting confirmation, World Meeting of Families is planning for pope’s visit

By Matthew Gambino, Catholic News Service

September 22 marked one year before the start of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, so organizers for the event took the occasion to brief staff of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on the latest details.

Donna Farrell, executive director for the Philadelphia event, to be held Sept. 22-25, 2015, said that the most frequently asked question her staff hears is, "How can I help?" About 7,000 to 10,000 volunteers will be needed, with 1,000 for the four days of discussions and programs that will comprise the World Meeting of Families at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Organizers are hoping for about 10,000 attendees for the four-day meeting, perhaps up to 15,000. It will be the largest convention in Philadelphia next year.

Most volunteers will be needed to help with the large public events expected to be attended by Pope Francis after the meeting, though confirmation of his visit has not yet been made official. After a volunteer coordinator is hired, volunteers will be accepted by the end of this year and mostly next year, with background clearances and training to follow in the summer.

Pope Francis would arrive Friday evening, Sept. 25, 2015, at the close of the World Meeting of Families with a public welcome ceremony at Independence Hall in Philadelphia with perhaps 40,000 in attendance.

On Saturday, about 43,000 young people are expected to fill Citizens Bank Park for a youth rally and enjoy a visit with the pope. Later that night, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the pope at a public Festival of Families cultural celebration along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia’s center city. It will feature musical and dance acts and other family entertainment, along with selected families from around the world giving witness to their family’s faith.

“It will be one of the most beautiful events of the week,” Farrell said.

Capping the week of festivities will be the public Mass celebrated by Pope Francis also on the Parkway on Sunday. No time has been set for the Mass yet, and multiple other details remain in flux as it is still a year away. But Farrell did say that "well in excess of 1 million people are expected."

She and her team of organizers are working to "create the most meaningful set of events so that people are still talking about this decades afterward, just as we are Pope John Paul II's visit" to Philadelphia in 1979, Farrell said, an event she attended as a teenager.

“I thought that was a once in a lifetime event, and here we are planning it again," she said.

Other events will include a Family Fest by Philadelphia's leading cultural institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute, among others. Each is planning family-themed exhibits and extended hours during the week. As an example, the Kimmell Center for the Arts will host a film festival.

A family 5K run is also planned, as are bus tours of the five national Catholic shrines in the Philadelphia region.

All the activities and events of the World Meeting of Families underscore its two main goals: "to strengthen families and to witness to the value of the family as the building block of society," Farrell said during the informational meeting she led on Monday.

Materials for Philadelphia parishes to help prepare parishioners are available on the website of the World Meeting of Families 2015: worldmeeting2015.org.

Organizers also will distribute 300 prayer cards to parishes. The cards display the official icon for the event and the official prayer, available in 18 languages. Farrell said prayer was an important part of the preparation for next year's event. She suggested parishioners light a candle at their church and say a prayer, for people to pray the official prayer together before meetings and, especially, together at home with their family.

Matthew Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Copyright (c) 2014 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops