So much for the 'private audience' with the Pope

Posted: March 27, 2014

VATICAN CITY - There will be no "private audience" with Pope Francis after all.

The delegation of Philadelphians who came to the Vatican this week to invite the Holy Father to Philadelphia next year announced late last night that a private meeting at the papal residence scheduled for this morning had been cancelled.

Instead, Francis will greet the guests during one of his weekly "general audiences" in St. Peter's Square.

Shortly after hearing the news, Gov. Corbett said it was just as well.

"We're still each individually going to meet the Holy Father," he said. "It's not quite the same as a being in a private room, but with the church, you never know what's going to happen."

Earlier yesterday, Corbett, Mayor Nutter and local business leaders met with the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family.

The delegation entered the building of the cabinet-level agency, walked past a row of offices and then into a conference room to begin another day of meetings.

But this wasn't the Municipal Services Building; it was in the 401-year-old Palazzo San Callisto. And the offices weren't for city workers in Philadelphia; they were for bishops and priests from France, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Poland and Italy.

Still, some things felt the same.

"Any large organization, including the church, has layers, has a structure, has a hierarchy, and I'm sure many folks here, possibly including the pope, feel that things don't always move as quickly as you'd like," Nutter said.

The pontifical council had planned to announce the theme for the World Meeting of Families, which will be in Philadelphia next year. But those plans were put on hold because Pope Francis has told the council he needs more time to develop the theme.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the council's gregarious Italian president, was nonetheless ecstatic to meet the Philadelphians.

He particularly liked a small Liberty Bell Nutter gave him as a gift.

"My dream is that in that week the bell will ring for a new spring of the family in the world," Paglia said.

Nutter told the council that Francis has been the greatest champion of human rights since Martin Luther King Jr. and that Philadelphia was the perfect place to spread his message.

"By no means was Philadelphia's history without discord: Sectarian violence, racial and economic conflict - they have all been common themes across the centuries," Nutter said, "and still, the city grew on the strength of its large families living in close-knit communities, dotted with church steeples."

After the meeting, the delegation headed to the Vatican's press office, Sala Stampa, where Chaput and Paglia fielded questions from the international press corps.

There, Nutter and his chief of staff, Everett Gillison, found a part of the church bureaucracy they wouldn't mind duplicating back home: the orderly conduct of Vatican news conferences.

"One at a time, no shouting out, state your name, stand up," Gillison said. "This might have to come back to Philly."

Finally, the group took private tours in the Vatican to sites rarely seen by tourists: the Apostolic Palace and the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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