Philadelphia — Sept. 22 marked exactly one year before the start of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, so organizers for the event took the occasion to brief staff of the Philadelphia archdiocese on the latest details.
Registration for the Sept. 22-25 event will begin within several weeks as agreements with speakers for the program are finalized. That part of the planning is ahead of schedule, as registration for the meetings held every three years in a different city typically begins only eight to nine months before the event.
Donna Farrell, executive director for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, acknowledged the excitement for the event in the city and said the most frequently asked question her staff hears is, "How can I help?"
That willingness to help will be tested because Farrell estimates 7,000 to 10,000 volunteers will be needed. Probably around a thousand of those will be needed for the four days of discussions and programs that will comprise the World Meeting of Families at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Organizers are hoping for about 10,000 attendees for the four-day meeting, perhaps up to 15,000. It will be the largest convention in Philadelphia next year.
Most volunteers will be needed to help with the large public events expected to be attended by Pope Francis after the meeting, though confirmation of his visit has not yet been made official. After a volunteer coordinator is hired, volunteers will be accepted by the end of this year and mostly next year, with background clearances and training to follow in the summer.
Planning for the papal visit is continuing, and Farrell described the some details of that portion of the week.
Pope Francis would arrive Friday evening, Sept. 25, 2015, at the close of the World Meeting of Families with a public welcome ceremony at Independence Hall in Philadelphia with perhaps 40,000 in attendance.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to join the pope Saturday night, Sept. 26, at a public Festival of Families cultural celebration along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia's center city. It will feature musical and dance acts and other family entertainment, along with selected families from around the world giving witness to their family's faith.
"It will be one of the most beautiful events of the week," Farrell said.
Capping the week of festivities will be the public Mass celebrated by Pope Francis also on the Parkway Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. No time has been set for the Mass yet, and multiple other details remain in flux as it is still a year away. But Farrell did say that "well in excess of 1 million people are expected."
She and her team of organizers are working to "create the most meaningful set of events so that people are still talking about this decades afterward, just as we are Pope John Paul II's visit" to Philadelphia in 1979, Farrell said, an event she also attended as a teenager.
"I thought that was a once in a lifetime event, and here we are planning it again," she said.
Another dire need for the event is how to accommodate the thousands of people coming to Philadelphia. Only about 11,000 hotel rooms exist in the immediate Philadelphia area, Farrell said, so it will be important for people to generously open their homes for guests.
Home Stay, a Dublin-based firm, will facilitate the process of matching a host family with people traveling to the area.
Other events will include a Family Fest by Philadelphia's leading cultural institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Franklin Institute, among others. Each is planning family-themed exhibits and extended hours during the week. As an example, the Kimmell Center for the Arts will host a film festival.
A family 5K run is also planned, as are bus tours of the five national Catholic shrines in the Philadelphia region.
All the activities and events of the World Meeting of Families underscore its two main goals: "to strengthen families and to witness to the value of the family as the building block of society," Farrell said during the informational meeting she led on Monday.
The meeting was just the first of about a dozen such meetings to be held in October in parishes of the Philadelphia archdiocese. Organized mostly by deaneries, World Meeting of Families staff will inform parish pastors and other leaders such as school principals, directors of religious education and pastoral council members on how to volunteer, how to host families and how to prepare parishioners for next year's event.
Materials for the parishes to help prepare parishioners are available on the website of the World Meeting of Families 2015.
Organizers also will distribute 300 prayer cards to parishes. The cards display the official icon for the event and the official prayer, available in 18 languages.
Farrell said prayer was an important part of the preparation for next year's event. She suggested parishioners light a candle at their church and say a prayer, for people to pray the official prayer together before meetings and, especially, together at home with their family.
[Matthew Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Philadelphia archdiocese.]