Already, Wyoming Valley native Robert Ciaruffoli is pondering the logistics.
If, for example, Pope Francis does attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015, probably a million people would want to hear the Mass he would celebrate, so maybe closing the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and setting up an altar on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art would be the best way to accommodate the crowd.
But with the international meeting still more than a year away, Ciaruffoli, who serves as president of the event’s Philadelphia Board, has been able to catch his breath and reflect on three days he spent in Rome at the end of March.
“It was, quite frankly, phenomenal,” Ciaruffoli said of meeting the pontiff as part of a 24-person delegation that officially invited Pope Francis to attend the World Meeting of Families when it takes place in the City of Brotherly Love next year.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, both emotionally and spiritually,” Ciaruffoli said, remembering the private audience. “I’m not able to do it justice in trying to describe it.”
Before the pope spoke to the Pennsylvania delegation, which included Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Ciaruffoli said, the pope greeted a family that had a very sick child.
“When the child got to Pope Francis, it was amazing, the smile on the pope’s face,” Ciaruffoli said. “He spent a fair amount of time with this family. Next it was the governor and mayor and myself. I realized my legs and knees were shaking like there was no tomorrow. I can honestly say that’s never happened to me before.”
The pope did not answer the invitation with a “yes” or “no.” Because he is a head of state, Ciaruffoli said, there are security concerns, and his schedule would not be announced this far in advance.
But Ciaruffoli said he believes the pope will attend this eighth World Meeting of Families because the previous seven meetings, held once every three years in such cities as Rome (twice), Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Valencia, Mexico City and Milan, have almost always been attended by the pope.
And, if the gentle concern Pope Francis showed for the sick child is any indication, Ciaruffoli believes he will want to attend the event, which is designed to “strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe.”
Ciaruffoli, who is chairman and CEO of ParenteBeard LLC, lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania until moving to the Philadelphia area 11 years ago. A 1975 graduate of King’s College, he also attended Holy Trinity Elementary School in Swoyersville and West Side Central Catholic in Kingston.
“If many of the good nuns knew I had a chance to meet the pope, they wouldn’t believe it,” Ciaruffoli said, hinting he had been a mischievous youth.
After the private audience early on March 25, Ciaruffoli said, the delegation attended a general audience with thousands of people, during which the pope gave a sermon. “The major topic was it’s not just enough to pray,” Ciaruffoli said. “Basically, we have to walk the talk. If you pray for the hungry, well, what are you going to do to help the hungry?”
Similar topics could be discussed during the World Meeting of Families, which is designed to bring together experts to discuss “pastoral social, cultural and economic challenges that impact families,” includes a “Feast of Testimonies” that Ciaruffoli described as a fun, social event and culminates with a Mass.
“The overarching concept is to reaffirm the joy, the beauty of Christian family life.”