You know that conference buzz? That electric energy that runs through your veins as you see people connecting with one another and immersing themselves in the event you planned? Philadelphia was bursting at the seams with that same kind of energy last week.
I was on-site in Philadelphia attending the World Meeting of Families, the event that prompted Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Let me tell you, the city was humming. The powers that be have been planning this conference for the last two years and anticipating the official Papal visit since last September. With the Holy Father’s presence in their city, native Philadelphians were equally excited as the 17,000 tourists in the city for the WMOF conference.
Discover Philadelphia‘s CEO and President Jack Ferguson knows what kind of opportunity this was for Philly. “We’re on the world stage. There’s no question about it,” he said during a press briefing. When I arrived, Ferguson sat with me and talked through the economic impact of the WMOF event and what it means to the city (more to come on that in the next issue of the magazine), but he kept coming back to the emotional impact of a visit from the Pope. “I mean, the bottom line is that this is priceless.”
There are so many interesting logistical challenges hosting the World Meeting of Families would pose for any city, and it was fascinating to see how Philadelphia accommodated the needs of travelers from all over the globe. Multilingual volunteers manned both the information desks at the airport as well as the registration booths at the convention center, and translation headsets were available at all general sessions.
It was inspiring to be around people speaking languages I didn’t recognize, and brought to the forefront the primary reason we meet face-to-face in a digital world: When people share something as crucial to their lives as their faith, there is power in gathering in the same space and relating on a new level, no matter the language being spoken.