Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the current archbishop of Philadelphia. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, he is the first Native American archbishop. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from St. Fidelis College Seminary and an M.A. in religious education from Capuchin College. He also studied psychology at the Catholic University of America.
Although the Holy See has yet to confirm the visit, Archbishop Chaput announced on July 24 that Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 22-25, 2015, as part of his first pastoral visit to the United States. On Aug. 11, I interviewed Archbishop Chaput by email about his expectations for this visit.
1) You recently announced that Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families next year. What will Pope Francis see in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?
There's never any guarantee that the pope will attend until the Holy See officially confirms it. That usually happens about six months in advance. But we're confident at this point that he intends to come if circumstances allow.
Philadelphia is the birthplace of the United States. It's where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed, and it's one of the great cities of our country. The church here, even after the legal and financial difficulties of the last decade, has a wonderful legacy and a deep reservoir of good will among the people. So I think the pope will experience one of the iconic American Catholic communities in a powerful and joyful way.
Given the pope’s enormous popularity, as evidenced by his record crowds at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio, what preparations will Philadelphia need to make for this visit?
We're expecting between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees for the talks and break-out sessions during the week—that's normal—but more than 1 million for the weekend papal visit and Mass.
There have also been reports that Pope Francis will visit New York to address the United Nations and Washington, D.C. to address a joint session of Congress. Can you confirm these reports?
That's a decision made by the Holy See in discussion with the national bishops' conference. The church in Philadelphia wouldn't necessarily be part of the discussion. So at this point, you know as much as I do.
What is the significance of the Holy Father visiting the United States at this time in his pontificate?
I'm not sure the timing is significant on his part. Marriage and family are obviously on his mind because he called both the extraordinary and ordinary synods to deal with the topics. But his concerns are much larger than the church in the United States. For us of course, the timing of his visit would be very important. The church in Philadelphia is just starting to recover from a very hard recent past. The presence of Pope Francis would have a great healing and renewing effect. And the country is currently absorbed in an ongoing debate about the nature of sexuality, marriage and family life, so his support for the Christian vision of marriage and family would have a ripple effect.
What will be the pope’s role in the World Meeting of Families?
He'll celebrate a major public Mass and take part in a number of interfaith, ecumenical and other encounters. But mainly he'll be here to encourage people to strengthen the bonds of love that can make their marriages and families a source of joy and a missionary witness.
What will your own role be?
The World Meeting of Families is actually the work of the Pontifical Council for Families. Philadelphia is the host city, but ultimately the PCF is in charge. My job is making sure that Philadelphia provides the kind of venue and experience that serves the evangelical purpose of the gathering. I believe we can do that in a memorable way.
What are your expectations for the World Meeting of Families?
A great time of Christian fellowship across national borders and cultures, and the seed of renewal for the church here.
What do you hope Pope Francis will take from his visit to Philadelphia?
The church is alive in the United States, and Americans have a hunger for the Gospel.
What do you hope Philadelphians will take from the pope’s visit?
A global sense of the Catholic community, the needs of the church beyond North America, and the obligations to each other that go with our baptism. One other thing: Philadelphia can have a tough exterior, but that's a mask. Its people have a deep, deep well of goodness, and they deserve to recover their joy and pride in the beauty of the Catholic faith, despite all the current moral conflicts in American culture. No one can stay sad—nobody can be bitter or defeatist—when he or she really encounters Jesus Christ. Pope Francis has the gift of bringing people to that encounter. That's what I hope for my people.
Sean Salai, S.J., is a regular contributor at America.