Wooing donors for papal visit at Union League

Posted: April 17, 2014

WITH ITS ORNATE halls, fine dining and strict dress code, the Union League isn't the type of place you'd associate with Pope Francis and his humble vision for Catholicism.

But it's exactly the type of place needed to lure deep-pocketed supporters for the not-so-humble endeavor of hosting Francis - and an estimated crowd of more than 1 million people - in Philadelphia next year for the World Meeting of Families.

Three weeks after returning from the Vatican to pitch Francis on Philadelphia, organizers of the event pitched 170 wealthy Philadelphians on Francis over breakfast yesterday at the private club, at Broad and Sansom streets.

"The world's going to be watching, and this will be our chance to demonstrate what we have here," said Gov. Corbett, an honorary co-chairman of the nonprofit set up to raise money for and plan the triennial Catholic gathering, which the pope usually attends.

Although Francis hasn't officially committed to the event - and isn't expected to until four to six months before it happens - Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput left little uncertainty that the pope will stop in Philadelphia during his first U.S. trip.

"If he doesn't come, I'll be extraordinarily surprised," Chaput said, adding that he knows it to be the pope's "intention" to come to the meeting.

In fact, the pope's attendance next year was all but assumed before the delegation even went to Rome. A main goal of that trip was to drum up support back home and help the fundraising effort - which will need as much help as it can get.

The group hasn't set a fundraising goal yet but is using the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia as a guideline. Organizers raised almost $70 million for that event.

"It's sobering to hear how much it cost to have the Republican Convention here," Chaput told reporters after the breakfast. "The costs constantly grow every time we hear about what we are expecting."

Chaput said that if the nonprofit ends up raising more money than is needed, excess contributions will be given to charity.

He added that the group will also have to recruit around 7,000 volunteers for the event.

Mayor Nutter, the other honorary cochair, jokingly offered to be a fundraising enforcer.

"I can assure you, you do not want me to call you. . . . I will be relentless," Nutter told the crowd. "Spiritually and from a civic impact, this will be priceless for the city."

The mayor also drew laughs when he acknowledged the gifts he gave Francis on the Rome trip: Philadelphia sports jerseys with "POPE FRANCIS" on the back and a miniature Liberty Bell.

He received some ribbing after the trip for the latter gift but joked it off yesterday, saying that he gave Francis "a very nice-sized Liberty Bell, which he seemed to like" and that he would keep giving them out.

Corbett also scored a few chuckles from the crowd when he joked about the tough re-election campaign he faces this fall.

"Now, you did mention politics, father," Corbett said, referencing an earlier remark by Chaput, "I was wondering - could we move [the papal visit] up to September this year?"

Based on papal visits to past meetings of the families' group, organizers expect Francis to come on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, and leave that Sunday after saying an outdoor Mass.

Philly's last papal visit was in 1979, when John Paul II gave a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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