Philly's papal visit dream team leaves for Rome on Sunday and some (if not all) of the delegates are imagining what that moment might be like when they get to meet Pope Francis.
"I wake up every day and I pinch myself! Believe me when I tell you that," said Bob Ciaruffoli.
He's the President of the 2015 World Meeting of Families, which is being held in Philadelphia that September. Ciaruffoli, who is also the chairman and CEO of accounting firm, ParenteBeard, is one of the civic leaders traveling to the Vatican. Archbishop Charles Chaput leads the team, which includes some of the city and region's most influential political, religious and civic leaders. They'll travel to Rome next week and meet first with the Pontifical Council for Families at the Vatican, sign a celebratory contract and announce the theme for Philly's World Meeting of Families.
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Then comes the most anticipated part of the visit which is their face-to-face time with Pope Francis
"As I read about this pope, this is a world-changing individual," said delegate Dan Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross. "The fact that I’m going with a group of folks who represent various faiths, various cultures, to meet with an individual who has stepped out of traditional bounds and said, ‘I’m about healing, I’m about reaching across traditional boundaries and I’m about helping the world understand that we need to be there for those who are less fortunate.’ So for me and for my wife Joan, this is very, very exciting."
The Philly delegates may get their first opportunity to meet Pope Francis during lunch on Tuesday. The delegates will dine in the Vatican's cafeteria, where Pope Francis almost always eats when he's home. According to local Catholic commentator and Whispers in the Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo, the pope not only likes to serve himself, he enjoys working the room and often sits down at different tables to visit with folks.
"I don’t know anything about the logistics, but just being in the cafeteria and having a lunch and being able to look over and see the pope, hopefully he will stop over and say hello," said Hilferty.
On Wednesday, March 26, the delegates and their spouse have a private audience scheduled with Pope Francis early in the morning before he holds his General Audience in St. Peter's Square. It's expected to be brief -- no more than 20 minutes. But even in that short amount of time, they hope to be able to impress and persuade Pope Francis to commit to a Philadelphia visit. It's expected that he will come, because traditionally, the Pope says mass at the World Meeting for Families, which is held every three years. 2015 will be the first time it's been held in the United States and if Pope Francis says mass in Philadelphia, Ciaruffoli expects upwards of one million people.
"It’s expected with the charisma and the buzz that Pope Francis has generated, we expect out-sized crowds; more than we’ve ever had in the city," Ciaruffoli said.
So how does persuading the pope work, as a team? Have they all been practicing their pitches?
"I can answer that very simply," Ciaruffoli said, with a good-natured laugh. "It’ll be off the cuff because almost none of us has ever met a pope before! So we’re gonna have to call it as we see it."