By Mark Abrams and Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – In the wake of the first overseas trip by Pope Francis, anticipation is growing in Philadelphia over a possible visit to the City of Brotherly Love by the pontiff for the world meeting of families in September 2015.
When the previous pope, Benedict the Sixteenth, announced Philadelphia as the site for the Vatican-sponsored event, he also said it was his plan to attend.
Now retired, that decision falls to his successor.
Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese says, officials here are hopeful after watching what just happened in Brazil and are discussing Pope Francis in their preliminary planning.
“We’ve not received official confirmation one way or the other at this point,” Gavin said. “But the event is still over two years off at this point in time so we remain very hopeful as we always have that the Holy Father will come.”
Veteran Vatican journalist Rocco Palmo, who is based in Philadelphia, says he’s fairly confident the new pope will make it.
“With a new pope who can travel, the operative assumption remains that Pope Francis will be here for it.”
So could the city of Philadelphia handle such crowds if Pope Francis attends the World Family Conference? When it comes to the Pope it’s never too soon to start planning, says the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Everett Gillison.
“We’re already meeting with the Archdiocese, we’re already talking about what our force component would be,” Gillison said. “We’re already talking about what our Homeland Security matters would be. But its right now in the very preliminary stages.”
Gillison is confident that if the Pope in fact arrives here in 2015, the city would be able to handle whatever size crowd comes to see him, even crowds like those in Rio.
“When I looked and I saw three million plus, and then they ended up having an additional couple of million people just kind of show up, I look and say, ‘Well, we have to be ready.’ If that happens here, we will have our plans and we’ll be able to deal with it.” Gillison says one key difference between the Pope’s Brazil visit and a potential one here is that officials here would know well in advance what size crowds are expected.
“The one good thing about the (United) States is that five million people just can’t descend out of thin air,” he said. “We would know in a buildup situation of where people are, how they would get here. We will know, because of our intel, because of how we collect information. All of that is part and parcel of how we plan for things.”
Specifics, of course, would depend on the venue of a potential Pope appearance — be it a stadium or, as happened in 1979, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“So we would end up probably talking about large screen televisions that could stretch for a long period of time. But that’s part of planning, and part of what we would end up anticipating.”