Philadelphia Faces Challenges Ahead Of Pope Francis' Visit

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Philadelphia's archbishop is preparing for Pope Francis' visit in September. The challenges, he says, include raising the $45 million needed to stage the event.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week, the Vatican hosted church and city leaders from Philadelphia. They're planning for a visit by Pope Francis this September. He'll be addressing the tri-annual World Meeting of Families. The stop in Philly will come at the end of the pope's first-ever trip to the U.S. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on the challenges of planning the event.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput says one of the biggest challenges has been raising the $45 million needed to host the Catholic Church event, but he says more than two-thirds has a been raised. He also says that of the 10,000 volunteers they need to work the event, 6,000 have already signed up. But Archbishop Chaput says it's the event's day-to-day issues that are causing the biggest headaches.

ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT: Where are you going to put the garbage, and how are we going to get people from one point to another? How are we going to protect the crowd from accidents and things like that? It's not just about protecting the Holy Father, it's more primarily about protecting the crowds of people that are coming.

POGGIOLI: The organizers of the World Meeting of Families are expecting one million to two million people will attend the open-air mass Francis will celebrate at the close of the event on September 27. Before that, family members will take part in a several panel discussions on issues ranging from family finances and having children with disabilities, to infidelity and human sexuality. At a press conference at the Vatican, the archbishop was asked if gay families would be featured.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHAPUT: We hope that everyone feels welcome to come, and certainly people who have experienced same-sex attraction are certainly welcome like anybody else.

POGGIOLI: But, he added...

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHAPUT: We don't want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church.

POGGIOLI: Without using the word gay, Philadelphia auxiliary bishop John McIntyre said a University of Notre Dame staff member and his mother would discuss his sexual orientation at one panel discussion. Pope Francis made world headlines when he said, who am I to judge when asked about a gay priest, and he has made numerous overtures to the gay community. The World Meeting of Families was started by Pope John Paul II in 1994 to promote traditional family values and takes place every three years in a different city. Before arriving in Philadelphia, Pope Francis will have visited Havana, Cuba, Washington and New York. Archbishop Chaput does not hide his concern that the Philadelphia family event could be overshadowed.

CHAPUT: We are worried a little bit that the press will decide that the most important issues are the political issues, visiting Congress, visiting United Nations. We're afraid he's going to be a bit tired by the time he arrives in Philadelphia, so we want Philadelphia to be a moment of re-energizing for him.

POGGIOLI: In order to ensure that, the organizers have lined up a list of performers for the Pope at a celebratory concert, including tenor Andrea Bocelli and the popular Colombian singer Juanes. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.