Saturday, April 20 2024

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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.

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