Dear Philly: Let’s Embrace the Pope’s Visit
When I saw the headline, “Papal Panic! Could the Pope’s Visit Be a Giant, Embarrassing Flop??” I almost didn’t scroll to read it. I see my fair share of daily letters, emails and comments listing all of the ways in which the visit of Pope Francis isn’t a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Philadelphia to shine for the world. The perspective I sometimes hear is that Pope Francis’ visit is nothing more than a once-in-a generation aggravation – something Philadelphians would much prefer to do without.
Based on the headline, I assumed Sandy Hingston’s piece would add to the cacophony. But, I was wrong. And while I would have preferred Ms. Hingston’s final comments — “We’re a big city, Philadelphia. We can handle this” — to lead the piece, I agree with her sentiment.
There are few people who can appreciate more than I do how incredibly important safety and security is to an event such as this. We live in a world that is dramatically altered from the Bicentennial in 1976 and from 1979 when Saint John Paul II blessed our city with his presence. The past two decades changed our world. We are more cautious because we must be. If nothing else, this is the lesson.
But, here’s the thing. In this changed and challenging world, Pope Francis has chosen Philadelphia in which to close his visit to the United States. There is meaning in that decision. And while we will be the last city he visits, it is important to remember that he chose us first. When we saw him in Rome last month, his first words to us in English were, “Three months.”
Trust me, he isn’t coming to “the city between New York and Washington, DC.”
Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia.
And that’s exactly why we have to deliver the world-class event that we, as Philadelphians, should want this to be. It’s time for us to say, “We can do this!” not, “I’m leaving town.” We spend years of our lives here lamenting that Philadelphia is too often overlooked (and I say that because I’m from here and I’ve lamented). But in the moment where the spotlight is on us – and never brighter – our first inclination is shy away because for 72 hours, life will be different here.
So, let’s agree that life will be different here for 72 hours in September. Let’s own it. Let’s embrace it. Let’s trust that we – as a city – can do this. And let’s fill the city and show the world why Pope Francis chose here.
Because it’s these 72 hours that will define Philadelphia forever in the eyes of the world.
Donna Crilley Farrell is the Executive Director of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015.