[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e touched down in Philadelphia and stepped into a city that’s brimming with excitement over the visit of Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families.
As we made our way to the baggage claim, we saw huge banners welcoming us to the city of brotherly love amidst displays of Pope Francis T-shirts (pink, no less) and bobble heads bearing the pontifical countenance.
Driving through the historic city, we saw the smokestacks and train tracks of an industrial city that’s home to the origins of this country’s Catholic school system.
“Your grandmother grew up on this street,” my cousin said as we drove past a solid block of row houses, most built in the mid-19th century. I think of Sophie Rick and her eight sisters walking these streets, giggling and skipping along as they visited with friends and family. Holy Family Parish was just across the way and it was the center of their family’s life.
Ann, my cousin, grew up in this city too, along with her husband, Dick. The house they live in was built in 1870, so the bathroom was an add-on, as is the electric power. The residence first belonged to her grandparents and then her parents, so as I head up the narrow, creaking stairs, I can’t help but think of long-gone cousins who did the same, perhaps with an infant on their hip or carrying baskets of fresh laundry. Ann remembers sliding down the bannisters.
With wood floors and antique furniture throughout, there are also lots of ancient, framed portraits on the walls. One of the largest is of my other cousin, Fr. Joe Curran, who passed away in 1997.
Gina Keating and I marveled at the beautiful front porch with rocking chairs — something you just don’t see in Phoenix — and headed up the street to the nearby bus stop. We took the nine-mile journey down to the Philadelphia Convention Center where we saw dozens of priests and religious sisters milling about.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family greeted a collection of journalists from both the Catholic and secular press who gathered in the media center.
Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia acknowledged that they’d been preparing for the World Meeting of Families for over three years. The more than 17,000 participants were there to “affirm their commitment to the family as the foundation for a fruitful life …. we become more fully alive by learning how to sacrifice out of love for others,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Nowhere is this learned more concretely than as is learned in the family.”
The family, he said, embraces all of humanity and speakers at the congress represent the global community since “healthy families are essential to authentic human development.”
Archbishop Vincezo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Conference on the Family, said that Philadelphia would be the world capital of families during the congress and reflect its origin as the “city of brotherly love” in a deeper way as pilgrims from more than 100 countries gathered. Some came from as far away as Africa and Vietnam.
Pointing to a replica of the Liberty Bell, he said that “here you will see the real family and that the meeting would offer something for all, including youth and young adults.
One reporter pointed out that for the first time, the World Meeting of Families was taking place in a county where most people are not Catholic.
Archbishop Paglia said the family is not an ecclesiastical creation but that “the family is an affair for all peoples. In this sense, the Church feels a responsibility to underline the importance of the family for all cultures, all persons and all people … we as Christians build families to transform the world.”
Gina and I are looking forward to meeting some of the pilgrims today, but that will be after the freshly installed Bishop Robert Barron addresses the crowd. He’s today’s keynote speaker.