When Pope Francis delivers his address at Independence Hall on Saturday, September 26th it will be historic for many reasons. The pope is expected to speak on immigration in the shadow of where the Founding Fathers fought for Independence from the British Crown, marking the first time a pope has visited the true cradle of liberty.
The pope’s visit to Philadelphia comes at the culmination of the World Meeting of Families at the Pennsylvania Convention Center the week of September 22nd. As many as two million pilgrims are expected to descend on Philadelphia the weekend of September 26th and 27th for a chance to see the pope at Independence Hall on Saturday and to attend a papal mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Sunday.
What is equally historic is the fact that Pope Francis will use a podium that was used for one of the most famous speeches in American History. The pontiff will use the Gettysburg Lectern, which was used by President Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address on November 19th, 1863. The lectern is part of The Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. The lectern is on display for the public at the Sir John Templeton Heritage Center of The Union League. It will remain on display through the month of August before it is specially prepared by historic conservators for use by the Holy Father for his Independence Hall address.
The lectern was used by President Lincoln to dedicate part of the Gettysburg battlefield as the first National Soldiers Cemetery. Lincoln spoke just 272 words, lasting just about two minutes in length, in what has become one of the most quoted and well-known speeches in American history.
It is expected Pope Francis will discuss the issues of immigration and freedom of religion during his Independence Hall comments. Organizers say just as Lincoln spoke on the most important issues of his time, Francis will too.
The simple, dark-walnut stand, is privately owned and on long-term loan to the Union League as part of its Lincoln Foundation exhibit. The Union League, a fixture on South Broad Street in Center City, was founded in 1862 specifically to support the policies of America’s 16th president.
John Meko, Executive Director for the Foundations of the Union League, said it seemed “appropriate to provide the Holy Father with the opportunity to deliver his message from the lectern at which President Lincoln gave the most famous speech in American History.”
Robert Ciaruffoli, President of the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 said organizers are grateful for the generosity of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation in offering the pope a chance to speak from the historic artifact. Ciaruffoli said “to have this man of faith who speaks for peace, love and religious freedom around the world, use President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Lectern to address all those who will come to see him in Philadelphia, will be a deeply moving moment for all.”