Families asked to host visitors for pope's US trip

AP News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2014 1:18 PM
Families asked to host visitors for pope's US trip

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Residents of the Philadelphia area are being asked to show some brotherly love to those traveling to the city to see Pope Francis next year.

With hotel rooms filling up fast for the Roman Catholic-sponsored World Meeting of Families, organizers hope to find more than 10,000 households willing to host guests in their spare bedrooms for a modest fee. It will be the first pontifical trip to the U.S. since 2008.

"We hope that a large number of the people of Philadelphia — not just the Catholic community, but others — will open their homes to visitors from around the world," Archbishop Charles Chaput said this week.

Organizers estimate that as many as 15,000 people will attend the Sept. 22-25 conference, which offers workshops and seminars on strengthening family bonds. More than 1.5 million pilgrims are expected for the pontiff's two public appearances Sept. 26-27, including a festival and a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

But the city only has 11,000 hotel rooms, so finding enough space for everyone is going to be "a big project," Chaput said. Event planners have even looked at hotels 90 miles away in Baltimore, he noted.

To supplement those beds, organizers have begun promoting a "Host a Family" effort, enlisting the Irish company Homestay to help match prospective hosts and visitors. More than 100 families have registered so far, said Homestay CEO Alan Clarke, noting that travelers can begin booking their stays in the coming weeks.

Organizers have publicized the recruiting effort online and through local Catholic parishes, which is how Renee Bowen first heard of the opportunity. Bowen, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne, said she wants to welcome an international guest so her family can have a memorable cultural experience on top of what promises to be a major religious and historical event.

"It's really a leap of faith," she said. "I just think there's going to be so much energy and so much excitement around this. I don't want to stand on the sidelines and just watch."

Bowen registered with Homestay by offering information about her family — she is married with twin 12-year-olds and three cats — and photos of the accommodations. Hosts are expected to live in the house with their guests and offer tips and suggestions on navigating the area.

Church organizers suggest families charge $30 to $50 per night, which Clarke said is roughly the average price per night across Homestay's thousands of properties worldwide. The company takes a 10 percent cut as an administration fee.

A similar hosting initiative was used at the last World Meeting of Families three years ago in Milan, Italy. Officials there reported 50,000 beds were used, according to Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of Philadelphia's organizing committee.

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Online:

World Meeting of Families: www.worldmeeting2015.org

Host A Family: http://bit.ly/1vcphGo

Homestay: www.homestay.com

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Associated Press writer Sean Carlin contributed to this story.

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Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson