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HOLY SEE/ Pope Benedict Taps Philly to Host Next World Family Meeting

Closing the World Meeting of Families in Milan, the Pope announced that Philadelphia will host the 2015 edition. “A gift to the local Church and to the whole nation.”, said Arch Chaput

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In a move as surprising as it is significant, Pope Benedict announced at today’s closing (June 3, ed.) of the Seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan that Philadelphia will host the next edition of the gathering in 2015. "God willing," the pontiff added his intent to travel for the event, saying that he "look[s] forward to meeting... the Catholics of that great city" then, "along with numerous families from all around the world."

Today's announcement marks the first time the Meeting will be held in the US church. Since its debut in 1994, only once has a papal visit previously been part of a prior Family Meeting held outside of Europe -- at the 1997 event, held in Rio de Janiero. The gathering's host city is personally selected by the Pope from a shortlist presented by the event's coordinating dicastery, the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Coming amid a scene of epic turbulence for the Northeastern fold, the choice solidifies a Vatican trend under Benedict of employing major church events as a boost for once-proud Catholic bastions which have fallen on challenging times. An earlier example of the approach takes center stage a week from today as the 50th International Eucharistic Congress opens in Dublin, the de facto center of an Irish church rocked by two decades of revelations of clergy sex-abuse and cover-up. In 2008, the Dublin event's predecessor was entrusted to heavily-secularized Quebec, with the aim of a similar jump-start for the church there.

Most significantly, however, Benedict’s site-selection likewise comes as an unmistakable sign of his confidence in and encouragement for his hand-picked appointee to lead the 1.2 million-member Philly church, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., whose first nine months in office have been dominated by the fallout of a flood of legal, administrative and financial crises which erupted in the wake of a February 2011 grand jury report, the second in five years to probe the archdiocese’s handling of sex-abuse cases across several decades.

Named to the post last July, Chaput traveled to Milan to receive the pontiff's commission for the event, greeting Benedict animatedly following the announcement. To make the trip, the Capuchin prelate was forced to miss yesterday's ordination of 13 permanent deacons for the archdiocese.

The Meeting would be the largest church event to be held in Philadelphia since the October 1979 visit of now-Blessed John Paul II, when a million people thronged the Ben Franklin Parkway for a Papal Mass on Logan Square -- a crowd that, at the time, was said to be the largest in the city's history. Three years earlier, the city hosted the 41st International Eucharistic Congress, given to the US to commemorate the bicentennial of the nation's independence, which climaxed in the Statio Orbis Mass for over 100,000 in the since-demolished JFK Stadium, with President Gerald Ford in attendance.

With Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on hand, today's closing rites for the Milan Meeting drew a crowd estimated at some 850,000 on an airfield. Last night's vigil took place with around 350,000 on hand. That said, Philadelphia is likely to host a considerably smaller gathering due to budget and logistical challenges.