The Delaware Valley, with its 886,000 Italian-American residents, ranks as the second-largest Italian-American community in the nation. Of the 886,000 Italian-Americans, 497,000 reside in Philadelphia, the region’s hub. Perhaps that’s because, by name, it’s the City of Brotherly Love, and it’s a city where one often sees the tricolored Italian flag proudly being waved.
Pope Francis chose Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, taking place Sept. 26-27. He will celebrate Mass before 2 million pilgrims. The organizational machine is already in motion, and, shifting from the sacred to the profane, the entire region anticipates an economic impact of $418 million. With just less than four months until the pope’s arrival, it’s already difficult to find hotel space, and the few rooms remaining are being offered at staggering rates.
It stands to reason that the city is looking to this event with great excitement. “The city is in a feverish flurry of activity,” said Nick DeBenedictis, president of Aqua America, the country’s second-largest water utility, which supplies water to 3 million customers in eight states and is headquartered in Philadelphia. “A great transformation is in motion. Shifting from a great manufacturing center, Philly is being discovered as a tourist town. We must prepare to welcome 2 million pilgrims in September.”
DeBenedictis speaks from experience, as he is also chairman of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city’s official agency for promoting tourism. He also played a key role in the success of the “Ciao Philadelphia” events, which debuted this past October and were promoted by Italian Consul General Andrea Canepari to strengthen the economic and political ties between the Delaware Valley and Italy.
“Canepari’s arrival in August 2013 brought a wave of fresh air to the city and in the entire region, which boasts a GNP of $405 billion, almost that of Switzerland,” said DeBenedictis.
The consul general has also voiced his desire to work with the education system to continue the efforts to bring the study of Italian to more schools and universities. The region has also seen a resurgence of the Italian-American mass-communications media through the rebirth of the Italian-American Herald and a new model of Italian-American radio on 1450 WILM-AM and 610 WTEL-AM.
It mustn’t stop there. While as individuals we can only be proud of the big commercial and religious achievements for the Italian-American community, we can be an integral part of the everyday activities and endeavors that will keep the ethnic-pride momentum going. Read the Herald, tune into the Italian-American radio programs, attend one of many Italian festivals in the region, and encourage our children and grandchildren to get involved. Preserving our heritage is not just about food or wine; it’s also about a culture, a heritage, a language and a way of life. It’s also not the sole duty of the Italian consul general, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, or the advertisers and sponsors of these activities. We in the mass media can also play an important role, but it’s you, the readers, who must carry out the grassroots effort that we develop and promote.