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Archdiocese plans pilgrimages for papal visit

Three options for those who want to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia, D.C.

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MIAMI | It’s tough to get a hotel room in Philly when the pope’s in town.

That’s what Stephen Colella has been finding out for the past three months, as he tried to organize an archdiocesan pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families, scheduled to take place Sept. 22-25 in the City of Brotherly Love.

When Pope Francis announced he would be in Philadelphia for the meeting’s closing festival, the weekend of Sept. 26-27 — after making stops in New York and Washington, D.C. — finding a hotel room became nearly impossible.

“One of the reasons why we’re delayed in this is that there are only 11,000 hotel rooms in Philadelphia,” said Colella, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Parish Life. “Demand is very high. They’re either very expensive or too far away.”

Also complicating matters is the fact that the pope’s schedule while in the U.S. has not been released. “We really didn’t know where to be when.”

A veteran of six World Youth Days with his former employer, the Archdiocese of Boston, Colella knows the importance of staying near public transportation — and not too many stops away from the papal Mass site, as subways and buses can get jam-packed with pilgrims, especially for a pope as popular as Francis.

Keeping the transportation and room rates affordable is also crucial.

Toward the end of February, Colella finally succeeded: He came up with not one but three options for South Florida Catholics looking to be, as he put it, “in the shadow of Peter” when Pope Francis visits the U.S. for the first time.

The devilish details, such as exact price, are still being worked out. But, Colella said, “We’ve got hotel space, bus space and plane space.”

As soon as he had that secured at the end of February, he sent the information to pastors, along with a survey they could forward to their people to gauge the number that would be interested.

(A fourth pilgrimage for young adults, ages 18-30, also is being planned by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry)

The first and cheapest option is a bus pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., where Pope Francis is expected to speak to a joint session of Congress and visit the National Shrine and Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds of Catholic University. Both are closed, ticket-only events, so this pilgrimage is not so much to see the pope as to demonstrate support for his message, especially as it relates to human dignity and the treatment of immigrants.

The drive to D.C. will take about 20 hours. Pilgrims will be dropped off at the basilica or on the grounds of Congress to wait for the pope, then spend the night in a hotel before driving back.

There’s no guarantee that anyone on this pilgrimage will even see the pope, Colella stressed, but they will be, in the biblical sense, “in the shadow of Peter,” as described in Acts 5:15.

“It’s a different kind of pilgrimage, where the Holy Father needs to see us,” Colella said. “He needs to see us and our support of what he’s trying to teach. They may not see him. But the power is in telling the Holy Father that he’s not alone in these teachings.”

The target dates are Sept. 22-24, with a price tag of between $300 and $400 per person. (*see note below)

The second pilgrimage is a flight to Philadelphia for the weekend festival that concludes the World Meeting of Families. That event is open to the public, and plans call for Pope Francis to celebrate Mass with the crowds on Sunday.

This pilgrimage includes three nights in a hotel, and a day-of-arrival tour of historical and religious sites in the city.

The price tag for this pilgrimage is between $1,000 and $1,400 per person, and it is tentatively set for Sept. 25-28. (*see note below)

The final option is the most expensive, but it includes everything in pilgrimage 2 plus participation in the week-long meeting of families that precedes the pope’s visit. Cost, which includes registration for the meeting, is between $2,000 and $2,600 per person and the tentative dates are Sept. 21-28. (*see note below)

No option includes New York, where papal events also are by ticket only.

“We just felt D.C. was closer, less expensive and easier,” Colella explained.

“We hope to offer all three tracks,” he added.

And all will be on a first-come, first-served basis, which is why filling out the survey is important. 

“People can register as a parish group but they have to register everybody,” Colella said.

He also stressed the difference between a pilgrimage — which these trips are — and a vacation, which these trips will not be.

“On a vacation, we relax and we want things our way. A pilgrimage is the opposite because you are opening yourself to what God wants you to experience,” Colella said. And that often includes sacrifices and difficulties.

“We’re not offering vacation packages to Philadelphia,” he said. “We’re offering pilgrimages of prayer, so people will grow in their faith, so we can become missionaries of hope back in our own families, in our schools, in our work, in our parishes and in our groups.”

*This article was modified April 24, 2015: The box listing the tentative dates and prices of the three pilgrimage options was deleted, as was a link to a survey aimed at gauging interest in each of the pilgrimages. This was done to avoid confusion, since exact dates and prices are now available. Please look for the updated story, with exact prices and dates and a new link where those interested can actually register to go on the desired pilgrimage. 

**Corrected May 18, 2105: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has now clarified that there will NOT be an opportunity for people to camp out overnight at the park to await the papal Mass Sept. 27. The original article suggested this might be a possibility. 

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