Philly delegates have short, but sweet, meeting with pope

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Pope Francis accepts a gift of a tiny Liberty Bell from Mayor Nutter as Archbishop Charles Chaput watches. The meeting was short but sweet, the Philly delegates said.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Pope Francis accepts a gift of a tiny Liberty Bell from Mayor Nutter as Archbishop Charles Chaput watches. The meeting was short but sweet, the Philly delegates said.
Posted: March 28, 2014

VATICAN CITY - In the end, Mayor Nutter got his private meeting with Pope Francis - sort of.

"There were 100,000 people behind us, but you have your own private moment with the pope. There's nothing like that," Nutter said after a two-minute meeting with Francis during the weekly "general audience" at St. Peter's Square yesterday. "When you're standing there with him, it is like you're the only person standing there. He's not trying to rush."

Nutter, Gov. Corbett and a cadre of local business leaders were special guests at the event. After the pope's address, they lined up, presented gifts to the Holy Father and accomplished what they came here to do: personally invite him to Philadelphia next year for the World Meeting of Families.

The group was originally scheduled to have a private meeting with Francis yesterday morning, before the general audience. That meeting was canceled late Tuesday night, likely because of the pope's schedule: He meets President Obama for the first time today and will be visited by Queen Elizabeth II next week.

Corbett said the rearranged plans didn't take away from the moment.

"I said to him that 'we would love to have you, on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania and with [Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput], come to Pennsylvania,' " Corbett said. "I thanked him for his service to the church and really to the world."

Nutter, who said he would consult with his mother about what to tell the pontiff, made sure to bring her up.

"I, of course, said: 'Holy Father, it's an honor to meet you. Thank you for having us here. On behalf of a million and a half people in Philadelphia - and my mother - I want to invite you to come to Philadelphia,' " Nutter recollected afterward. "He asked me to pray for him. I said, 'Yes, but I need you to pray for me.' He said, 'Yes.' "

Nutter said Francis, the first Jesuit pope, did not respond verbally but reacted positively when he told him that he went to a Jesuit high school, St. Joseph's Prep.

Meeting the pope, Nutter said, "is way beyond anything I could have ever imagined whether as a kid or even in my public service."

The group returns to Philadelphia today.

More than an hour before Francis arrived for his weekly "general audience," tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists filled St. Peter's Square.

Braving on-and-off rain, they sat under a canopy of contiguous umbrellas, creating a pointillist ring around the 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk that is the central feature of the square. As warm-up speeches were translated into seven languages, they cheered when their country's tongue came up, like families at a high-school graduation.

Finally, Francis entered by taking a slow lap around the crowd in his "popemobile," stopping frequently to kiss babies and embrace his adorers.

He then walked up the steps of St. Peter's Basilica and sat in a gold chair on a podium facing the crowd. His speech focused on the sacrament of holy orders, or becoming a priest.

"Jesus entrusted his apostles with the care of his flock," Francis said, according to a translated summary that was read to the crowd. "Theirs must be lives of passionate love for the church."

After all the translations were read and he greeted the special guests from Philadelphia, Francis spent more than an hour making his way through the crowd.

He kissed every baby in sight, blessed every rosary thrust toward him and often stopped for minutes at a time to hear people's stories and why they needed his prayer. He spent more time with many of them than the two minutes he spent with the mayor and governor combined.

A dozen newlywed couples - in their wedding dresses and suits - lined up in front of the basilica to receive his blessing. (Every couple except one had the pontiff pose for a selfie with them.)

He signed religious mementos for some - a printed "F" followed by a squiggly line - and received gifts from others.

Among the most common gifts were homemade portraits of him. They were whisked away by staff as he received them. (Somewhere in the Vatican, there must be an enormous pile of homemade likenesses of Francis.)

As he made his way around one stretch of pilgrim-lined fence, a choir from Argentina, his home country, praised him in song and erupted when he waved to them.

Then they chanted: "Viva el Papa Francisco!"

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN


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