By the clamor over a limited selection of tickets for Pope Francis’ visit at World Meeting of the Families, WMOF, September 26-27, it is evident that Americans are ecstatic about his upcoming US trip.
According to many news outlets, it took a mere 2 minutes for 10,000 tickets to be claimed online leaving the disheartened ‘late-comer’ empty-handed by seconds. In order to prepare Americans for the event, countless media – both Catholic and secular – have published pieces breaking down and explaining WMOF. For instance, while Business Journal writes ‘What is World Meeting of the Families,’ others like ABC News cover logistical controversies, culminating in two papal parades so he may be more accessible to the crowds.
NBC10.com and others, on the other hand, produced articles on the predicted size which ranks it the largest one yet. Currently, hitting 17,000 registered for just the opening Congress, Philadelphia’s WMOF already exceeds Milan’s three year ago, with 7,000 attendees. The Papal Mass and closing ceremony, moreover, are expected to draw at least 1.5 million.
Excitement increased exponentially when Pope Francis decided to visit the US a little earlier than expected, and in a manner unforeseen. His ‘virtual audience’ with ABC News , aired Sept. 4, sparked endless media interest and ample coverage. The hour long news special with Americans across the country on issues of immigration and family life was positively portrayed by media, covered by Washington Post, Huffington Post, TIME, CNN, Crux, American Magazine and many more.
Preparation for Pope Francis’ at WMOF, the triennial event begun in 1994 by St. Pope John Paul II, has indeed roused much excitement, but not only. The event, intended to uphold and strengthen the values of the family, has bestirred much contention as well. In a country whose Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, it’s of little surprise that an event headed under such a banner would arouse conflict, bread and butter for the media.
What triggered the contention, at least more publically and in media, was a Vatican Press Conference, June 25th, in preparation for WMOF. More precisely, it was the response to a question, namely: how will LGBT families be welcomed at WMOF? Philadelphia’s Archbishop and event host, Charles Chaput, responded that gay families are welcomed but lobbying isn’t; that as individuals gays are welcome, but as representative groups using it as a platform to voice their views is not.
Archbishop Chaput’s response caught media’s attention unilaterally, provoking articles both in Catholic and secular media, and specifically LGTB Catholic advocate groups. Interestingly, besides great division emerging on how this response was received, the comment provoked discussion about Pope Francis’ seemingly “unclear” stance on LGTB, a cause of division among American Catholics. A fact which alludes to yet another: the role of media in the life of the faithful.
Most media framed the response in an exclusive and negative statement. For instance, Washington Post ’s title ran, “Equality Groups getting shut out of Pope Francis Meeting in Philadelphia;” Huffington Post (Reuters), “Gay Catholic Will Be Silenced During Pope Francis’ Philadelphia Visit;” Religion News Service, “LGTB groups criticize decision to eject them from Church near World Meeting Event.”
Gay rights activists interpreted Chaput’s comment as demeaning and discriminatory. LGTB leaders particularly noted that it was a missed chance for the Church to explore, preferring to quarantine it as problematic.
New Ways Ministry , a LGTB Catholic advocacy group, wrote on their blog that Archbishop Chaput’s stance was not necessarily the official position of the Church, but one approach among many. They compared comments made by Archbishop Vincent Paglia, Head of Pontifical Council for the Family, who they found more pastoral and open to dialogue about reconciling an alternative lifestyle with Catholicism. Prominent LGTB groups claim that due to Chaput’s unwelcoming attitude, they are not only planning workshops to coincide with WMOF, but also are voicing hints of a demonstration. Veteran gay rights veteran, Mark Segal, for instance, told PhillyMag.com that demonstrations would not be in defiance of the Pope, but rather of Chaput.
American Catholics themselves, note the media, seem confused about the gay issue, many unclear about Pope Francis’ actual stance on it. In an article by Associated Press (found in New York Times ), results of Public Religion Research Group’s recent survey was published, revealing that 4 in 10 Catholics believed Pope Francis’ actually supported same sex marriage.
While Pope Francis’ has indeed stressed mercy and welcome during his pontificate, he has made no move to alter Church teachings relevant to same-sex marriage. In fact, on many occasions he has condemned it as contrary to the life of the Church; occasions which appeared drastically less in the media compared to his winning comments such as ‘Who am I too judge?’ Much of the confusion surrounding the Holy Father’s position, thus, may stem in part from media coverage, or lack thereof on certain topics and events, typically American Catholics main source of information, and even catechizes.
With just weeks away, excitement for WMOF still builds, while the contention abates for the present, but all await to see what Pope Francis’ US trip has in store for America. While Philadelphia prepares for the crowds, LGTB advocacy groups prepare for ways to intermingle, and media prepares for ways to ambush that crossroads with mic and pen.