Philadelphia residents ready spare rooms, couches for papal pilgrims

Fri May 15, 2015 10:47am EDT
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By Scott Malone

, (Reuters) - The 1.5 million people expected to pack into Philadelphia this fall for Pope Francis' first visit to the United States will fill the city's hotels, motels and Patricia Hughey's spare rooms.

Hughey and her husband are among the more than 1,000 Philadelphia-area households who have signed up to host visitors attending a September summit on families organized by the Roman Catholic church, which will come at the start of the week of Francis' visit to the United States.

"When I heard that the Pope was going to come, really my first thought was 'Oh my gosh, they are going to need hosts for this enormous crush of people'," said Hughey, who is 57 and said she was raised Catholic in Alabama but is no longer a member of the church.

For Hughey, who plans to host two brothers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a married couple from Vietnam, a lot of the appeal was the chance to show off her adopted hometown and meet visitors from some of the 150 foreign delegations attending the World Meeting of Families. Visitors will pay host families a token fee to cover costs.

"We love to travel and I love meeting people from other countries," said Hughey. "Hosting somebody from a completely other country and culture is an opportunity that's a little hard to come by."

The Pope's visit to the "City of Brotherly Love," which will cap a week in which he speaks to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, is expected to give Philadelphia's economy a $417.9 million boost, with much of the spending going to hotels and restaurants, according to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Organizers of the week-long meeting, that leads up to a Sept. 27 Mass expected to draw over 1.5 million people, said they asked area residents to offer space in their homes for visitors who might not be able to afford hotel stays.

Founded by Quakers in the late 17th century, Philadelphia gained a large Catholic population through immigration from traditionally Roman Catholic countries such as Italy and Ireland.   Continued...

Monsignor Joseph Trinh has been a pastor at St. Helena's Parish for 17 years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, May 12, 2015.  REUTERS/Mark Makela