Pope Francis and Archbishop Chaput at an audience in Saint Peter’s Square in September 2014.  (Photo credited to L’Osservatore Romano Photographic Service)

Pope Francis and Archbishop Chaput in Saint Peter’s Square in September 2014. (Photo by L’Osservatore Romano Photographic Service)

by Angela Sanders

When news of the Pope Francis’ planned visit to Philadelphia reached Our Mother of Consolation Catholic Church in Chestnut Hill, the congregation began to prepare in earnest for the big weekend – the Festival of Families on Saturday night, Sept. 26, and Mass at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday, Sept. 27.

According to Sister Christine Konopelski, SSJ, pastoral associate for faith formation at Our Mother of Consolation, parish preparations began more than a year ago.

But, why prepare at all?

According to Dr. Christopher Roberts, OMC parishioner, and editor of the official Catechesis for the 8th World Meeting of Families, preparing meant a lot of introspection and study.

“It’s worth thinking about how, in our culture, marriage and sex are treated paradoxically,” he said. “To keep a level head and cultivate good values isn’t easy, perhaps especially for young people. So, to take some time to step aside from the media circus, to do some quiet reading and prayer – it can really help prepare the heart and mind for dialogue in a spiritual way and not just a sensational way.”

The three-prong approach to parish preparation begins with education. OMC has educated its parish family by hosting a multitude of programs, including a book discussion group in the spring focused on the official Catechesis of the 8th World Meeting of Families, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” a step-by-step account of Catholic theology.

“[The Catechesis] explains Catholic basics about Jesus, love, mercy, creation and the Church, and how these things connect with day-to-day moral issues in family life and our culture,” Roberts said. “If you want to understand the common denominator between Catholic beliefs about serving the poor, creating community and sexuality, this is the book for you.”

On a practical level, he said the different chapters of the book set the schedule for the World Meeting of Families Congress at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. In the days before the Pope arrives, various speakers will address the book’s themes during the congress.

OMC will host a second book discussion group at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, in the Parish Center. This discussion will focus on Chris Lowney’s “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads.”

According to Konopelski, “It’s the way [Pope Francis] lives his life that speaks volumes, and it speaks to people not just of the Catholic faith but other perspectives as well.”

The parish has also presented speakers throughout the year and will continue to do so leading up to the Papal visit. Roberts will discuss the topics found in the Catechesis on Sunday, Sept. 13, after the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses in the Parish Hall.

In May, OMC hosted “Year of Encounter with Pope Francis,” a six-week program facilitated by John Grogan, a trained member of OMC’s parish team. The program, designed by PICO National Network, echoes the theme of encountering those experiencing the effects of exclusion, culminating with a call to action in the final session.

For children, booklets and pamphlets about Pope Francis will be handed out in early September to teach children about the Pope and his role in the Church and the world.

“Meet Pope Francis,” a children’s booklet written by Connie Clark with colorful illustrations by Jim Burrows, explains that “Pope Francis is many things to many people. To Catholics, he is Christ’s representative – the shepherd who teaches and leads God’s people. To world leaders, he is a voice for justice who helps bring countries together in peace.”

According to Konopelski, OMC Parish School will foster children’s understanding of the Pope in early September during school hours as well.

“Essentially, even though [the Pope] is the head of the church, he’s a priest,” she said. “He is called to shepherd, but he just has a bigger group to shepherd. His role is to always to lead people to Christ.”

For spiritual preparation, OMC parish prays the prayer of the World Meeting of Families at Mass and encourages families to pray together at home. A life-size cutout of Pope Francis at the school also sparks children’s curiosity and, of course, poses for selfies.

The third prong of OMC’s approach is the practicality of the matter. Since traveling and parking may be tricky in Chestnut Hill, the parish is already developing a system to reserve parking spots so that those remaining in town may be able to attend OMC’s Sunday Mass.

Additionally, prior to OMC’s three Mass times (7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., and 11 a.m.) on Sunday, Sept. 27, the parish invites any parishioners who will be heading into Philadelphia to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis to first come to OMC for a “sending forth of pilgrims” and a blessing from the Church, said the Rev. Bob Bazzoli, pastor at OMC.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to greet people who may be coming from all over the world,” he said. “It’s a great honor for us as a neighborhood to show them our Chestnut Hill hospitality.”