ATLANTA — Though a year away and not confirmed, a possible visit by Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families already has organizers figuring out how to accommodate as many as 1.5 million pilgrims, organizing an outdoor Mass on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, and forming a strategy to manage the unpredictable pontiff’s inevitable “spontaneous” activities.
Meg Kane, vice president of Brian Communications and hired to handle public relations for the event, said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Atlanta today that a papal visit could include an outdoor Mass and altar at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
“If you were Rocky and just ran up steps and turned around,” that is where the pope would celebrate Mass, she said. That site has also hosted Jay Z concerts, providing a “schematic” for planners.
The World Meeting of Families, with the theme “Love is Our Mission,” will be held September 22-27, 2015.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, dealing with operating deficits, is expected to help raise money for the event, which could cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Kane. But the World Meeting of Families is a nonprofit that is separate from the archdiocese, and “the archbishop has said the parishes are not paying for this,” she said. Instead, organizers will rely on outside fundraising.
Calling the city of Philadelphia “an outstanding partner,” Kane said organizers expect 5,000 to 7,000 members of the media, as well as delegates from 135 countries. There will be space set aside where protesters can demonstrate.
The World Meeting of Families will likely address similar issues expected to be debated next month at the Bishops Synod on the family in Rome.
When Betsy Shirley, a Yale Divinity School student at the conference, asked if “non-traditional” families will be included in the Philadelphia event, Kane said, “My understanding is that we are focusing on a wide variety of issues affecting families.”
In addition to Philadelphia, Pope Francis is reportedly considering invitations to speak at the United Nations in New York and before Congress in Washington, DC, decisions that could affect the number of people visiting Philadelphia. Confirmation of the pope’s attendance is not expected until next spring.