In June, Pope Benedict announced that a massive Catholic shindig—the World Meeting of Families—would be held in Philadelphia in 2015. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the pope will be here as well. While I don’t find this news thrilling for religious reasons—despite a childhood wish to be a cool Hallahan girl, I’ve always been Jewish—any Philly booster who shivers happily at the word “Philadelphia” on the national news knows a high-profile event of this kind could be a good thing.
It’s not a terrific time to make a case for the joys of a papal visit. These days, when the word “Philadelphia” is uttered on national news, it’s often in relation to pedophile priests. Between sex abuse and birth control, the Church is hemorrhaging adherents: One in 10 Americans is now an ex-Catholic. My ex-Catholic friends have become so cynical, they question the timing of Cardinal Bevilacqua’s death: Quite convenient, wasn’t it?
But let’s look at this dispassionately. The last time a pope came here was 1979, bringing a million people to the city. When John Paul II celebrated Mass outside the Basilica, thousands thronged the Parkway for a kinder, gentler, less alcoholic Mummers Parade. Reporters at the Daily News were so moved, they wrote sentences like: “No matter whether you are a Catholic or not, you couldn’t help but be swept away by the excitement, the emotion and the air of exhilaration that cradled this city for 48 hours.”
If you can’t be exhilarated by today’s Catholic Church, get excited instead about an influx of thousands of tourists. The World Families Meeting takes place over five days. That’s five days of tourists patronizing our town. Mayor Nutter has spoken repeatedly about wanting Philadelphia to be an international city; nothing like a papal visit to get a little attention.
Pope Benedict has visited the U.S. one other time. He’ll turn 88 in 2015, so this will likely be his last visit to this country. That makes it even more of a rock-star tour. Let’s do the right thing by the city and support the event—even if our feelings about the Church are, shall we say, ambivalent.
This story originally appeared in the August issue of Philadelphia magazine.