Local officials and parishioners hailed the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he plans to visit Philadelphia in 2015 when it is the site of the next World Meeting of Families, some adding that it might heal divisions caused by the clergy abuse scandals of recent years.
Benedict announced the venue during a Sunday Mass in Milan celebrating the seventh such gathering of families from around the world. The pope sent his greetings to Archbishop Charles Chaput and the Catholics "of that great city" and said he was looking forward to meeting them in 2015.
Officials said it was too early to confirm the papal calendar. Traditionally papal trips abroad are usually confirmed first by the local diocese hosting the trip once the dates are set, a few months before the journey. And the Vatican releases details of such a pilgrimage only a few weeks before departure. Since becoming pope, Benedict attended a world families meeting in Valencia, Spain, but skipped one in Mexico.
The announcement of the papal visit comes as jurors in Philadelphia are deliberating in the landmark trial of a former Roman Catholic church official charged with conspiring to hide priest-abuse complaints and endangering children by keeping predators in ministry.
Chaput hailed the visit in a statement from Milan, where diocesan officials said he received the icon of the Holy Family, which is the symbol of The World Meeting of Families.
"I am so grateful to the Holy Father that he has chosen Philadelphia and excited that we will host the 2015 World Meeting of Families," Chaput said. "It's fitting that this gathering, which celebrates the cornerstone of society, will take place in America's cradle of freedom. The Holy Father's choice is a gift to the local Church in Philadelphia and to the whole nation."
Chaput, who heads the five-county archdiocese that has about 1.5 million Catholics, also said the visit would highlight the importance of the family, which he said ``is founded on a deep and loving union between one man and one woman for mutual support and the nurturing of children'' and is ``the basic evangelizing unit of the Church.''
"Every effort to promote marriage and the family serves not only the Church, but also the common good," he said.
In the landmark trial that went to the jury on Friday, Monsignor William Lynn, the former secretary for clergy, is the first U.S. church official charged for his handling of child sex-abuse complaints. He said he tried to get the Philadelphia archdiocese to address the problem, only to be rebuffed by his archbishop, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Prosecutors maintain that Lynn could have quit or called police.
Some parishioners leaving the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul in central Philadelphia after Sunday Mass said they hoped the papal visit could help heal divisions caused by the church sex abuse scandals of recent years.
"I think the divisiveness because of the sex scandal has really impacted the attendance at Mass and just the unity of Catholics in the city,'' said Mary Corcoran, who graduated from a Catholic school just up the street. ``I think it just might bring some healing to us, having his presence here in the city."
Eileen Jameson, 53, carrying her not-quite-2-year-old granddaughter Lyla down the cathedral steps after her very first Mass, said she thought anticipation of the visit could reinvigorate local Catholics after the scandals.
"I would think we could use a boost," she said. "Even just the thought of it will, I think, make people a little happier about things."
In 1979, Pope John Paul II drew gigantic crowds of people along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway outside the cathedral when he came to celebrate Mass.
Corcoran said she remembers the day vividly.
"It was just a beautiful experience," she said. "It was a very moving event."
Theresa Pollard, 46, of Mullica Hill, N.J., said she remembers "crowds, cheers and lots of excitement" from then, and she's looking forward to Pope Benedict XVI's visit.
"I will be waiting in line," she said. "I was here to see Pope John Paul as a child, so I'm eager for his arrival, so my whole family will be here."