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Apr 3 2015

World Meeting Of Families 2015 Philadelphia: What's The Story?

Catholicism In Philly, Religious Freedom & The Destination Itself

As families around the globe prepare for their pilgrimage of faith to the eighth World Meeting of Families (WMOF), taking place in Philadelphia September 22-25, 2015, the city is preparing to welcome them to this landmark event, which culminates on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the Festival of Families on September 26 and a public mass celebrated by Pope Francis on September 27. Visitors in town for the week-long event will find a city with a rich history of religious freedom and a strong Catholic heritage, a wide range of affordable attractions for all ages and services and resources that will enrich their experience.

Here’s a look at story angles for media to consider as they prepare to cover this historic event:

Religious Freedom & Catholicism In Philly:

  • Philadelphia’s Unique History of Religious Tolerance Followers of many faiths, including Catholicism, have Pennsylvania founder William Penn to thank for his 1701 Charter of Privileges that allowed them to practice their beliefs freely in his colony, despite royal laws that banned everything but Protestantism. Under Penn’s so-called “Holy Experiment,” Catholics, Quakers and people of many other religious faiths settled in Philadelphia, where they continue to thrive. Catholic mass was said publicly as early as 1733 at Old St. Joseph’s Church. Congregation Rodeph Shalom traces its beginning to 1795, when the first Ashkenazic Jewish congregation in the Western Hemisphere formed. Richard Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal denomination with the dedication of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in 1794. Before settlers could build separate meetinghouses and churches, Mennonites and Quakers, Lutherans and Anglicans, Presbyterians and Baptists shared their worship spaces. Subscription pledges from Benjamin Franklin and members of Christ Church helped Congregation Mikveh Israel avoid a 1788 mortgage foreclosure; George Washington was among those who contributed to the building fund of St. Augustine’s.
  • Philly Firsts For Catholicism
    Thanks to its prominent political position in the British colonies and its early status as a city that welcomed all faiths, Philadelphia has played a dominant role in the establishment of Catholicism in America. Forbidden from practicing their beliefs elsewhere, Catholics celebrated their first public mass in the New World at Old St. Joseph’s Church in 1733. St. Joseph’s was the first urban Catholic church in the colonies, and one of its priests started the first Catholic orphanage in response to the 1793 Yellow Fever. In 1779, Old St. Mary’s Church held the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence, and in 1789, Holy Trinity Church became the first national parish in the country by gearing its services to Germans. Bishop John Neumann (later canonized) established Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church as the first parish for Italian-speaking Catholics in 1852. Opened in 1890, Roman Catholic High School was the first free diocesan high school in the U.S., and John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School became the first diocesan Catholic high school for girls in the country in 1911.
  • Saints Shine At Philly Shrines
    The Philadelphia region is home to six major Catholic shrines. The two most famous are the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Bucks County, and the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, in the city proper. President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the dedication of Our Lady of Czestochowa in 1966 to commemorate 1,000 years of Polish Christianity. Worshippers can pay respects to St. Neumann’s tomb at St. Peter the Apostle Church. Neumann was an 18th-century Philadelphia bishop who established the American diocesan school system. Also in the city are the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, paying homage to a nun revered as a peacemaker, and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, whose keepers have distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the poor in the name of the Blessed Mother. Saint Katharine Drexel was canonized for her work with Native- and African-Americans, and visitors can visit the Saint Katherine Drexel shrine and burial site at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bucks County. Finally, in Chalfont, Bucks County, lies the working Saint Jude Parish and Shrine, built to honor the patron saint of hope and impossible causes.
  • Papal History in Philadelphia
    Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia marks the second time the city has hosted a sitting pope. In October 1979, one million onlookers greeted Pope John Paul II for a mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during his first papal visit to the United States. He spent 21 hours and 12 minutes in the city and also said a mass for 13,000 priests and nuns at the Philadelphia Civic Center. Later, worshippers lined up before 3:30 a.m. to see the pontiff at St. Peter the Apostle Church, which houses a shrine to St. John Neumann; he also stopped at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where 170 seminarians chanted and stomped their feet to welcome him. A total of two million people saw him, and many banks closed in his honor. One physical landmark remains: a 37-foot cross used in the Center City mass now stands on the grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
  • Philly Catholic Fun Facts
    • Old St. Mary’s Church boasts many historical gravesites, from parishioner John Barry, father of the American Navy, to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ great-great-grandfather Michael Bouvier, first of the family to immigrate from France. The Continental Congress officially worshipped at St. Mary’s four times, while casual parishioners included George Washington and John Adams.
    • Some 1.1 million Catholics call the five-county Philadelphia region home, as do 12 Catholic colleges in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, including Villanova, St. Joseph’s and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
    • The archdiocese holds status as the only one in the country to house two saints: The first male American saint, St. John Neumann, and St. Katherine Drexel, devoted to helping Native- and African-Americans. While Pope Francis tours the United States, he’ll canonize another one—Franciscan friar Junipero Serra, who founded the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in 1769.

A Family-friendly Town:

  • Family Fun For All Ages
    Parents will be relieved to discover that the antidote to that dreaded childhood refrain “I’m bored” lies here in Philadelphia. “No, no” turns to “yes, yes” at Please Touch Museum, where the under seven set can touch everything—literally everything. Almost everything at The Franklin Institute is interactive, including the mind-blowing new exhibition Your Brain. Weekend fun is on tap at Sesame Place, celebrating 35 years of fun and giggles at the only theme park in the country based on the popular television show. Furry creatures of a different sort roam the Skywalk at the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s oldest. Families can swim with the sharks across the Delaware River at the Adventure Aquarium, while smaller visitors enjoy the penguin, hippo and other displays. The old-fashioned carousel, award-winning playground, Philadelphia mini-golf and green space at Franklin Square is perfect for some quality family time. During WMOF, the Academy Explorers Camp, hosted by The Academy of Natural Sciences will offer kids a special day camp full of fun and learning, giving parents some quality alone time.
  • Affordable Philly
    For budget-conscious families whose favorite words are “free” and “low-cost,” Philadelphia delivers. Most attractions in Independence National Historical Park, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center and Congress Hall, are free, while the Benjamin Franklin Museum charges a nominal fee. There is no cost to check out the chemistry-focused Chemical Heritage Foundation’s museum, and for just a few bucks, families can explore the historic and pint-sized Betsy Ross House and the only-in-Philadelphia Mummers Museum, focused on the city’s fun and festive New Year’s Day parade. Kids can burn off some energy on the giant covered slide and other retro activities at historic Smith Playground in Fairmount Park, and it won’t cost a penny. Discover the city’s outdoor art with free downloadable audio segments offered by Museum Without Walls, or pay what you wish ($10 suggested donation for adults) at the Rodin Museum. Penny pinchers can save big bucks on admission to five of the city’s most popular attractions with the Philadelphia CityPASS.

International Appeal:

  • Philly Speaks Your Language 
    Whether playing or praying, WMOF visitors will feel right at home at attractions, churches, and other places providing resources in numerous languages. First stop, Independence Visitor Center, where visitors can learn about attractions in Independence National Historical Park thanks to brochures in a dozen languages, including Russian, Korean, Arabic and German. VISIT PHILADELPHIA’s self-guided New Americans Tour, downloadable in several languages through the Mayor’s Office of Immigrants and Multicultural Affairs, leads visitors to historic sites that tell the story of the United States’ founding for new citizens and those studying to be new citizens. And with some advance notice, a number of companies—Philadelphia Urban
    Adventures, Philly by Segway
    and Philadelphia Personal Tours, among others—can
    arrange city tours in a wide range of languages. Visitors can take in the splendor at the internationally renowned Longwood Gardens thanks to maps and brochures in Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. Come time for worship, a number of Philadelphia churches offer mass and other liturgical services in languages such as Tagalog, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Polish, Chinese and Slovak. Churchgoers can find them here.
  • Cultural Connections
    International visitors arriving for the WMOF can explore their heritage at Philadelphia’s numerous ethnic and cultural museums and sites. Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally ranked garden in West Fairmount Park, reflects the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia. Modeled after a 17th-century Swedish manor, the American Swedish Historical Museum uses tapestry and artifacts to tell the story of the New Sweden colonists who settled here in the mid-1600s. Polish culture and the contributions of its citizens are highlighted at the compact Polish American Cultural Center with colorful displays on such traditions as the elaborately decorated Pisanki eggs and accomplishments of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Casimir Pulaski, Nicolaus Copernicus and others. Taller Puertorriqueño preserves and celebrates Latin arts and culture, while The African American Museum in Philadelphia traces the experiences and contributions of African-Americans from the kingdoms of Africa to the present. The German Society of Pennsylvania screens German films and hosts cultural events, and those wishing for the traditional cuisines of their homelands can find them in the Italian Market, Reading Terminal Market and Chinatown.
  • An Argentinean’s Home Away From Home
    Being far from home can make even a pope a little homesick. Fortunately, Philadelphia has the antidote with traditional Argentinean dishes, drinks and dancing. Pope Francis could drop by Gavin’s Café for a traditional ‘desayuno Argentina’ (Argentinean breakfast) of authentic medialunas, facturas or bizcocho or, if he’s in a hurry, he can grab the signature empanadas or homemade alfajores. For a more leisurely dinner, Tierra Colombiana serves a perfect churrasco, an Argentinean skirt steak that is moist, tender and full of flavor. Known for its restorative qualities, a cup of Yerba mate tea could help energize Pope Francis during his visit. Premium Steap and The Spice Corner both sell high-quality leaves for brewing. There’s also The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop, where they serve a piping hot cup of tea from a gourd, just like it’s served back in Argentina. And if the pope wants to dance, he can join the crowd at the Philadelphia Argentine Tango School, where the staff and internationally renowned guest instructors transform confused beginners into seasoned dancers.

Philly Basics:

  • Philly 101
    Philadelphia, the birthplace of American independence and now the nation’s fifth largest city, is easily accessible and, once here, easy to navigate. Nearly 30 airlines offering 1,000 daily flights from more than 130 domestic and international cities serve Philadelphia International Airport, located just seven miles from Center City. Amtrak’s 30th Street Station is a major East Coast hub, and drivers can easily arrive via interstate routes 95 or 76. The easy-to-use grid system designed by founder William Penn makes Philadelphia very pedestrian-friendly, but SEPTA, PATCO and numerous taxis are ideal for longer trips. The city’s diverse population contributes to its international reputation as a great dining destination, and visitors can sample everything from cheesesteaks and soft pretzels to global cuisines. With some of the world’s most renowned museums and performing arts organizations, Philadelphia is a thriving cultural center. And the city’s five major sports teams boast some of the most vocal and enthusiastic fans in the nation.
  • Philadelphia: A Major Events Kind Of Town
    When Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia in 1979, it wasn’t the first time Philadelphia held an event that captured the world’s attention. From its earliest days when the city hosted two of the nation’s most important gatherings—the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787—the city has mounted numerous blockbuster events. During Live Aid, Live 8, the 2000 Republican National Convention, Jay Z’s Made in America two-day concert, several presidential visits and the annual Welcome America! Fourth of July extravaganza, audiences from around the world saw how Philadelphia handily coordinated all entities—government officials, city services, public transportation, public safety, tourism and hospitality agencies, media, community groups and dozens of others—to stage seamlessly executed mega-events.

For more information about the World Meeting of Families, including schedule, registration, housing and more, visit

VISIT PHILADELPHIA® makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases the number of visitors, the number of nights they stay and the number of things they do in the five-county area.

On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, and, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.

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Museum Happenings:

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