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September 22, 2015

After months of planning, World Meeting of Families finally begins

Events WMOF 2015
Carroll - Papal Visit Nuns Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Opening Ceremony of the World Meeting of Families, Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at the PA Convention Center.

The World Meeting of Families formally commenced Tuesday with an opening ceremony featuring live music, a welcome from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and a Breezer bicycle.

"What happens this week is a celebrtion, not about the past, but the future," Chaput said. "The lesson is simple. God remakes the world through the people and families who love him."

More than 17,500 people from 100-plus countries have registered for the World Meeting of Families, a triennial event that examines issues facing families. The conference will conclude with a two-day visit by Pope Francis this weekend.

Hundreds of people poured into the Grand Hall at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the opening ceremony. Pilgrims — who came from as far as the Philippines, Argentina, Nigeria and Vietnam — waved flags or draped them from a balcony overlooking the hall.

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Attendants gather for the World Meeting of Families (Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice)

John Madrigale, a parishioner at St. Nicholas of Tolentine in South Philadelphia, said he hopes the World Meeting of Families brings a renewal of family life to society.

"This is a bringing back to the basics of what makes us who we are," Madrigale said.

Many in the crowd wore clear, plastic backpacks with the World Meeting of Families screen-printed on them. 

Excitement for the papal visit was palatable Tuesday. The first mention of Pope Francis during the opening ceremony drew a hearty round of applause from the crowd.

Madrigale said he is excited to see Pope Francis. He's also encouraged by all the walking, saying it creates community among Catholics and opens up lines of communication.  

"We're meeting people on the way," Madrigale said. "Let us journey together. We're not in this alone."

Must Read: The Papal Bull-etin: Everything you need to know about Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia

Related Gallery: Gallery: Day 1, World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, proclaimed Philadelphia as the perfect location to host the conference, saying the meeting will follow the path laid out by the various popes since the Second Vatican Council.

"If the family is full of life, society is full of life," Paglia said. "If the family is strong, society is strong."

Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled gifts for Pope Francis, including a Breezer bicycle, during his welcoming address. The custom bike, received by Chaput, was created to celebrate Pope Francis' advocacy for environmentally friendly transportation options.

"It's a people's bike for the 'People's Pope,'" Nutter said.