A Pennsylvania delegation’s much-anticipated private meeting with Pope Francis today has been canceled.
The delegation, which included Gov. Tom Corbett, was scheduled to meet early today to invite the pontiff to Philadelphia in 2015 for a major Catholic conference on families.
But Meg Kane, whose firm helped coordinate the trip to Rome, sent word out at about 11:30 p.m. Rome time that the delegation would not be meeting with the pope as had been long planned, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Rather, she said, the governor, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and other public and corporate leaders and their spouses would be presented to the pope during today’s regularly scheduled public audience in St. Peter’s Square. There, Ms. Kane said, each would be able to present gifts to Francis if they have them, and speak “a few words” with him. She did not explain the change in plans.
Today’s meeting was to follow a ceremony Tuesday at the Vatican, where Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia — president of the Pontifical Council for the Family — formally signed a contract bringing the next Roman Catholic World Meeting of Families conference to the City of Brotherly Love, Sept. 22-27, 2015.
Mr. Corbett, Mr. Nutter and others in the Pennsylvania delegation attended the signing ceremony, where they also expressed their hope that Pope Francis would attend.
“It is our deep hope that the World Meeting of Families will be enriched and made more vital by the presence of the Holy Father, whose humility, compassion and simple eloquence have shown a light of hope around the world,” Mr. Corbett said in a statement.
Archbishop Paglia did not say whether the pope would be attending but said the issue of family is a top priority for the pontiff. “The Philadelphia meeting will be held at a particularly important time for the church,” he said. “Pope Francis, in fact, has decided to focus all of Catholicism on the subject of the family.”
He cited such actions as Pope Francis’ calling of a synod of bishops in October to talk about modern issues facing the family — a synod for which the Vatican has sought widespread comment ahead of time on such controversial issues as gay marriage, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage. The proximity of Philadelphia to New York, where the United Nations this year has been undergoing a 20th anniversary assessment of the 1994 International Year of the Family, is “a providential call to religious and civil institutions to work together to bring a better future to all the families of the world,” Archbishop Paglia said.
The conference theme will be “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” Archbishop Paglia said.
Popes have attended five of the seven World Meetings of the Family, but no confirmation of Pope Francis’ participation is expected before next year, according to The Associated Press. The pope has a standing invitation to address the U.S. Congress and would presumably speak at the United Nations if he were on the East Coast.
Based on the results of Pope Benedict’s appearance at the 2012 meeting in Milan, Pennsylvania officials are estimating a papal visit would draw 1 million people to Philadelphia and have a $100 million economic impact.
And persuading the pope to make his inaugural U.S. visit in Philadelphia would inject a morale boost for a city that has witnessed devastating revelations of the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“The church in Philadelphia is also very much a community in need of renewal in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis of the past decade,” Archbishop Chaput said. “In that sense, Philadelphia is a snapshot of the Church globally. We have a duty to help abuse victims and their families to heal, and to protect children and young people from harm in the years ahead.”
Pope Francis enjoys an 85 percent popularity rating among American Catholics and 66 percent among Americans overall, according to the Pew Research Center. He has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, has adorned the covers of magazines ranging from Time to Rolling Stone and has drawn admiration for his embrace of the poor and the ailing, his rejection of clerical careerists and his gestures toward gays and other marginalized groups.
The last pope to visit Philadelphia was John Paul II in 1979. An estimated 1 million people attended an open-air Mass that John Paul celebrated on a three-story platform at Logan Circle, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Between the Mass, John Paul’s motorcade trips and other appearances, about 2 million people saw him, the paper reported.
Mr. Nutter said the celebration in Philadelphia offers Pope Francis “a signature opportunity” to speak about family concerns to a huge audience. “Francis’ message needs to be heard in the United States,” he said, giving Archbishop Paglia a replica of the Liberty Bell.