Pope Francis in Philly: Q&A with Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia at the annual Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo, N.D. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

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.

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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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Helen Smith
4 years 2 months ago
Nice interview but "Philadelphia can have a tough exterior, but that's a mask." What??? I wish that Sean Salai, S.J. had asked Archbishop Chaput to elaborate on that statement. I am from Philadelphia. It is where I was "bread and buttered" as they say. We had a reputation for being one of the most conservative dioceses in the U.S. Can It be that Chaput is referring to that characteristic? Nah, I don't think so.
J Cosgrove
4 years 2 months ago
but "Philadelphia can have a tough exterior, but that's a mask."
Philadelphia is known around the country as a tough place to play especially in sports. I grew up in Philadelphia and it was known for its booing of both home and away teams. One of the jokes that goes around is that it is the only place that booed Santa Claus. It actually happened at an Eagles game. It seems like I am knocking Philadelphia. No. I cannot think of a better place to grow up and my wife who is not from there always remarks on how nice the people are when we go back there. We were back there last weekend having a great time with relatives and friends.
Helen Smith
4 years 2 months ago
Yes, indeed. The Eagles are an embarrassment, at least to me. (You don't bring families to their games,) The Phillies, well, not so tough. A lot of Phillie fanatics will stick with the team through think and thin. I don't think that Archbishop Chaput was referring to the sports fans in Philadelphia. In my opinion, he was not prepared for the passion that Philadelphia Catholics have for their parishes and schools and their righteous anger over the hierarchy's handling of the clergy abuse scandal.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 2 months ago
I think you are mistaken, Helen. I live in the Philadelphia area. Archbishop Chaput has referred to Philadelphia's toughness in the past. He means the famed toughness of the citizens. Archbishop has experienced that toughness in his radical downsizing of the Archdiocese infrastructure to get the diocese on a healthy financial footing. He has also been very aggressive in removing priests, even with years'old accusations. Recall the 26 priests removed by him after the Grand Jury. Of those, 11 have been cleared and returned to ministry, 4 are considered child abusers, and the other were declared unsuitable for non child-sex-abuse reasons (adult affairs etc.). So, the grand Jury has a 1/6 batting average. I had to dig this out of the multiple press releases over the last 2 years. I bet this statistic won't get much attention in the media.
Helen Smith
4 years 2 months ago
Tim, I too have followed this tragic Philadelphia story. I find the media in the Philadelphia area has covered the issue quite fairly.
Helen Smith
4 years 2 months ago
On second thought: Maybe the Archbishop was making a back-handed compliment.

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