Philadelphia “Gives It Up!” For Pope Francis

Coche No Ordinary Life, September 25 2015


Subtitle: Pope Francis and The World Meeting of Families reinforce family values 

Summary: The Pope and a meeting devoted to the importance of the family grace Philadelphia and remind millions of world citizens of the need for solid family values as the center of their being.


        “Let’s protect the family, because it’s in the family that our future is at play."

                                                Pope Francis, Philadelphia, September 26, 2015

“Give it up for the Bishop!’ Mayor Nutter stood regally, red tie heralding his pride in organizing and pulling off the remarkable event called The World Meeting of Families (WMOF), sponsored by none other than THE Catholic Church.  20,000 Pilgrims, from 100+ nations, had turned up to celebrate the power of families and the power of Pope Francis, “the right hand of God,” as he was called more than once.  Unaccustomed to the customs and pageantry of Catholicism, I found myself sitting in a huge auditorium at Philadelphia’s Convention center, watching a choir sing on the big screen to my right, as a long stage full of creamy-silk gowned Catholic Dignitaries with brilliant hot pink zucchetti (skull caps) and regally tall white hats went through the mass that is the foundation of their faith. My day was enriched by the presence of my dear friend, Catholic Spiritual Leader Ann Rice Mullen, who skillfully explained some of the rituals. “Give it up” was meant to signal “Clap wildly!” and the well-mannered crowds did just that. It also meant a gift from Philadelphia bicycle specially designed for Pope Francis (see photo). 

Everywhere I looked I heard English as a second language as world citizens landed on their hallowed ground after weeks and months of planning. Hearsay had it that some had driven from Argentina, a feat I could not begin to imagine.  In Rittenhouse Square, the sophisticated city park around my corner, pilgrims looked both fervent and confused as they found the local Starbucks for their hot cuppa morning brew, brought it into the nearby park, and had that starry-eyed dedication that indicated their tremendous effort to get into the presence of the beloved head of the Catholic Church.

The most moving part of the day for me was outside the religious heraldry and the solid family values that surrounded me.  I was deeply moved by  the speech of our dewy eyed city Mayor, a tall and striking man, who spoke more eloquently on this day that on the day when I heard him speak in eulogy for my Philadelphia activist friend Happy Fernandez.  As Nutter regaled us all with stories of the Jesuit Priests who were his boyhood mentors, and his loyalty to his West Philadelphia Catholic Parish, he left no doubt that creating this welcome for global family celebration and Papal Blessing was a high point, not only in his tenure, but in his lifetime.  As I heard him speak, “Give it up!” took on another meaning for me. Mayor Nutter, to his credit, had shaped Philadelphia’s future by organizing an n unignorable force.  Center City Philadelphia is a complex heterogeneous cultural community of half a million citizens. Nutter has led a charge to put the needs of the Pope and the World Family Meeting above those of the local residents for three full days, September 25-27: security requires that the Art Museum area, where the Pope would be speaking, be walled off.  And, residents have been blocked from driving into the city over major bridges in order to make the Papal visit safe. As I contemplated the enormity of the request, I realized that “Give it up!” had another meaning: we, citizens of center city Philadelphia, were required to work around the event in order to entertain a Pope and a million invited guests whom we personally did not invite. 

Would it be worth the effort? The Jury was still out when thousands of Center City residents took refuge from the militant safety of the city by heading to beach and mountain retreats. Husband John, our two dogs and I were among those who claimed the Papal visit a reason to take a week off and enjoy the beauty of the fall surrounding us.  Mildly annoyed, but deeply loyal to the idea of religious freedom, we are all tolerating the inconveniences with good humor. We do worry that murderous interlopers might ruin the Hollywood Extravaganza. But so far, the jubilance of those attending the Pope’s speeches indicates Nutter’s brilliance in pulling off this mind-bending event. Today, September 27, 2015, 1,500,000 pious and curious folks are expected to see the Papal Mass from Philadelphia’s iconic historic art museum. 

What do you think?  Does it makes sense for a city to “Give it up!” so that one faction of the spiritual life in its midst can throw the biggest party I have ever seen?  And, an even bigger question: Why do humans abandon fact to embrace faith in what cannot be scientifically proven? What about being human puts Faith and Belief above dedication to proven fact? 

The human spirit must feel alive. Life must be worth living. As a very astute friend said yesterday, as we walked the bronze tinged fall marshlands around us, so many bad things happen in life, that we all need faith that someone can help us make sense of human suffering.  “If God wills that this be done, this will takes care of me,” is the sense many have of the centrality of Faith in their lives. And, since I can find no research to prove or dispute this line of thinking, it stands, as testament to the power within us to need to explain our very existence in hopeful terms.  

Positive Psychology would be very proud of Mayor Nutter indeed.  He has organized a huge force of great energy to enable the greatest party in the name of organized religion that I will ever see. Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the WMOF: I spent the day celebrating the power of The Family with world residents who began as strangers.  Some offered me “Peace.” Each person I saw was smiling, at times moved to tears, as they exercised their resolve to “be a better person. “The power of the Faith that I witnessed at our Convention Center, reminded me that all of us need to believe in someone or something.     

I rejoice that those who follow the dictates of the Pope. As a Clinical Psychologist I have dedicated decades to preparing for and practicing ways to enable optimal lives for clients, graduate students, Psychiatric Residents, and the public. I expect that the Pope’s Army has brought security and well-being to more global citizens than those of us representing Positive Psychology will ever reach.  The voice of hope and of solid family values are carried by the magnitude of organized Catholicism. They help reach the minds and the hearts of anyone able to access a TV this weekend.    

On September 26, 2015, less than a mile from the offices of The Coche Center, LLC, and Pope Francis said that "The most beautiful thing that God did says the Bible, was the family…..In families, there is always light. In the family, there are indeed difficulties. But those difficulties are overcome with love. Hatred is not capable of dealing with any difficulty, and overcoming any difficulty. Division of hearts cannot overcome any difficulty. Only love is able to overcome".  Optimal lives happen only when we shape our beliefs to create world peace. Mayor Nutter hopes that Philadelphia leads others in taking a tiny step towards creating world peace this weekend. And I, for one, “Give it up!” for Mayor Nutter!  Do you?

To Consider:  What is there about a huge event that is so moving? Can you reap benefit from the Pope’s visit to the USA regardless of your religious beliefs?  How? 

To Read: Martin Buber, I and Thou.Touchstone Press, 1971



Norris Clark