VATICAN CITY (AP) — Philadelphia church officials said Thursday they're confident about preparations for Pope Francis' visit at the three-month homestretch, having raised more than two-thirds of the $45 million needed and lining up 6,000 of 10,000 volunteers.
Archbishop Charles Chaput and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wrapped up four days of talks at the Vatican ahead of the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families. Francis arrives Sept. 26 and will celebrate a final Mass before upward of 1.5 million people.
"We expect to meet our goal of raising $45 million," Chaput said as he confirmed pledges for more than $30 million so far. The bulk of the money is going toward security, infrastructure and cleanup.
The meeting will be preceded by an international conference on Catholic family life featuring panel discussions about everything from family finances to infidelity to policing the Internet for children. Leaders from Catholic, evangelical, Jewish and other faiths will be represented, and the meeting organizers have set aside $1.5 million in sponsorships to ensure poor families from across the Americas can attend.
Asked if gay families would be welcome or featured at the congress, Chaput said all families are welcome but that the church doesn't want to provide a platform for people to lobby for positions "contrary to the life of our church."
The U.S. church has been at the forefront in battling moves to legalize gay marriage across the country.
Without using the word "gay," Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre said a University of Notre Dame staff member, Ron Belgau, and his mother would discuss his sexual orientation at a panel discussion.
McIntyre said Belgau, who has described himself as gay and celibate, will discuss "coming to terms with his sexual orientation and the manner in which he embraced the teaching of Christ in the church."
Francis, who famously said "Who am I to judge" when asked about a purportedly gay priest, has made several gestures to the gay community, meeting with a transsexual, lunching with gay inmates during a visit to a Naples prison and reportedly insisting that a gay rights group be included in a meeting of grass-roots organizations during his upcoming trip to South America.
The Philadelphia family meeting will cap Francis' weeklong visit to Cuba and the United States. It is aimed at inspiring an October synod of bishops at the Vatican that will take up a host of pastoral issues aimed at providing better care for Catholic families today.
While ministering to gays had been an important focus of the first round of debate at the bishops' synod last year, the working paper for the next round that was released this week by the Vatican dedicated scant attention to the issue, saying only that the church should respect and welcome gays.
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