Philadelphia — Philadelphia formally opened its arms to the world as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told the U.S. Catholic bishops Monday that registration has begun for the World Meeting of Families next year in the city.
The archbishop made the announcement on the first day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
With up to 15,000 attendees expected for the gathering of families from around the country and the world Sept. 22-25, 2015, organizers are planning hotel and other accommodations plus a full slate of top speakers and activities for what will be the largest convention for Philadelphia next year.
"The World Meeting of Families will deal with a wide range of family issues where our faith is both needed and tested," the archbishop said. "These are matters that affect families not only here in the United States but on a global scale."
Addressing those matters in six keynote speeches and 67 breakout sessions -- each allowing for 15-20 minutes of questions and answers with 700 to 1,000 people per session -- will be speakers including Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, and other bishops, priests and religious sisters, plus Helen Alvare, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and author Scott Hahn.
Chaput told the bishops in Baltimore that the meeting's content will deal not only with "neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media," but also poverty, addiction, children with disabilities, the loss of a spouse, divorce and co-parenting, health and wellness and how these issues affect the family.
Other themes such as "creating real intimacy between husband and wife" and the roles of grandparents and the parish community to help deal with the challenges of raising children would also be examined, the archbishop said.
Mounting an event of this size could be daunting for the financially challenged archdiocese. "The good news is that we've already raised more than half of what we need," Chaput told the bishops. "We've also had wonderful cooperation from the city, state and federal authorities."
He added, "We've made good progress, but we still have a long way to go."
Registration and other information is available at worldmeeting2015.org. Registration actually opened in late October to get feedback on what was needed to strengthen the process.
"It's so complex, and we wanted to make sure all the moving parts worked well together" before announcing the registration publicly, said Donna Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families.
One positive result of the feedback was the lowering of registration fees, which Farrell said was a key goal.
"Archbishop Chaput wanted to make sure this congress was accessible as possible," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan news website.
Four pricing tiers are available -- with separate pricing for the meeting's two tracks: the Adult Congress and the Youth Congress, which is aimed at youth ages 6 to 17. There are full packages, modified and basic packages, and one-day registration.
For example, the full package for an adult will cost $325 and includes registration, a welcome kit, two lunch tickets, a $100 debit card for expenses and a mass transit pass valid for a week. The one-day registration will cost $95. The full package cost for youth is $199; one-day registration is $25. Full details are available on the website. Prices will go up between $25 and $50 as the event nears.
Already, 32 hotels in Philadelphia have reserved rooms ranging from $129 to $299 per night, with an average cost of $220.
Farrell's team now is working with hotels elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in New Jersey and Delaware to expand the number of rooms available to attendees. She also has encouraged local households to open their homes to attendees if they have room to accommodate guests. The website homestay.com based in Dublin matches homes with travelers coming to the world meeting.
One of Farrell's biggest challenges with registration has been coordinating the five-day meeting with the widely expected visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia. Hotel reservation for the World Meeting of Families ends Sept. 25, even though plans call for the pope to visit Friday evening and Saturday, with about 1 million people expected to attend a public Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27.
But since the Vatican has not officially announced the papal visit, rooms are not being reserved for it at this time.
"We're not likely to get an announcement until the turn of the year," Chaput told the bishops. "But we do have many hopeful signs that he does intend to come."
"It is our hope and expectation that people registering for the congress would get the right of first refusal" for a room during the papal visit, Farrell said. But that portion of the registration remains unknown until Pope Francis' visit is confirmed, which could be between four and eight months before September.
[Matthew Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com and PhaithMagazine.com, the news and magazine websites of the Philadelphia archdiocese. Mark Pattison in Baltimore contributed to this story.]