Papal Visit About Mission Not Dollars For Catholic Groups

The Pontiff is trending. Cardboard cutouts of Pope Francis giving a thumbs sign up are popping up all over Washington, D.C. The cutouts, which have been distributed to schools and parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, are intended to build excitement for the upcoming papal visit and to serve as a reminder to live by Pope Francis’ example, according to Sarah Yaklic, director of digital media for the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington earlier this year discussed how they would honor the first papal visit to the United States since 2008.  They came up with the #WalkWithFrancis campaign. The campaign launched on July 22 and has drawn more than 39,000 pledges to pray, serve and act to go along with more than 5,000 social media posts. “Our main goal is transformation,” Yaklic said. “We know people are praying, actively serving with service projects, random acts of kindness, advocacy efforts.”

Archdiocesan schools participating in the “Cup of Joe” program, an effort to package breakfasts for local shelters, is one example of such service in action, Yaklic said.

The Archdiocese intends to present Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, with a #WalkWithFrancis social book, a compilation of social media posts of those committing to the campaign, Yaklic said. The campaign is slated to continue after Pope Francis’ departure as a means of encouraging individuals to continue to pray and serve. “It gives us a great opportunity to show faith in action,” Yaklic said. “How are you serving? How are you trying to bring your faith the life?”

The Archdiocese of Washington is just one of several organizations using social media and service campaigns to draw attention to their work and the populations they serve in advance of the papal visit. With Pope Francis set to visit Washington, New York and Philadelphia from Sept. 22 through Sept. 27, archdioceses and charities are taking the opportunity to try to galvanize service and education more so than generate dollars and cents.

“A lot of people have been using the popularity of the Pope and the great respect people have to get the door open to think about the mission of Jesus,” said Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, president and CEO of the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC). “This is ‘how we do the mission of Jesus.’ More of a soft sell.”

Organizations near Washington and Philadelphia will participate in the visit in various ways and taking advantage of opportunities to segue attentions to their own initiatives, Lehmuth said. NCDC will not use the papal visit to promote itself, believing it to be more appropriate for local churches to take that opportunity. “I know organizations are sending out cards to commemorate,” Lehmuth said. “I know that folks intend to look at what (Pope Francis) is doing and going to say and have a lot of follow-up literature.”

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York (CCNY) since mid-April has collected 200 videos welcoming Pope Francis as part of its Charity Has No Boundaries campaign, according to Paul Costiglio, director of communications and marketing for CCNY. Videos have been sent from across the country and include messages from elected officials, athletes and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert and Tom Brokaw.

Participants have been invited to include a verse from the Gospel of Mathew (25:3) in their messages, according to Costiglio. The verse, which includes the line “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” ties into the papal visit to New York, during which Pope Francis will greet 150 refugees, Costiglio said. Like their counterparts in the nation’s capitol, CCNY plans to present Pope Francis with a compilation of responses during his visit.

Charity Has No Boundaries was identified as an opportunity for the many who will not be able to see or interact with Pope Francis to nonetheless create a connection with him. “I think we’re really excited about the idea to be a bit of a conduit for people across the country to welcome the pope,” Costiglio said. “If we can be a vehicle for people to have a touch-point with Pope Francis we are delighted and really excited to do so.”

The Archdiocese might adapt the campaign for other applications following the papal visit, though no plans are currently in place, according to Costiglio.

Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) launched its #End45 campaign, timed to coincide with the papal visit. The campaign hopes to bring attention to the 45 million Americans living in poverty, according to Maureen Varnon, senior vice president of communications and marketing for CCUSA. “Our goal is to gather national visibility for people, an opportunity to discuss poverty,” Varnon said. “Draw attention to the issue, engagement for this issue.”

Seven videos have been posted on the campaign’s portion of CCUSA’s website with the intention of providing personal stories about American poverty accompanied with an underlying message of hope, Varnon said. The number seven holds special significance as one in seven Americans live in poverty, according to Varnon.

The campaign’s page is also being used as a means of collecting photos from individuals posting images in support of the campaign using the hashtag #End45. “Social media has provided a way for anybody to engage up to the Pope himself,” Varnon said. “From that perspective, it provides a level playing field for anybody to be heard.”


The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is working in tandem with World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family in preparing for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF), which will be highlighted by Pope Francis’ visit on Sept. 26 and 27, according to Ken Gavin, communications director for the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese expects 10,000 volunteers to assist staff during the events, which will also include the World Meeting of Families Congress on Sept. 22 to 25.

In the lead-up to the WMOF, local parishes, schools and social service programs have taken on grass-roots initiatives to assist the marginalized populations in their communities as a means of welcoming Pope Francis, Gavin said. The Hunger and Homelessness Sub-Committee of the WMOF has worked to raise awareness and funding for impoverished individuals independent of WMOF initiatives and fundraising, Gavin said. WMOF – Philadelphia has also experienced financial support from individuals and corporate sponsors and has established a fundraising goal of $45 million for the event.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will host a booth at the World Meeting of Families, according to Tom Price, senior communications manager for CRS. CRS’ booth will provide visitors with information on family-strengthening programs, education on fair-trade practices and an opportunity to purchase fair-trade goods such as coffee and chocolate.

In the lead up to the World Meeting of Families, CRS is seeking volunteers through its Helping Hands program to go to the event to help package meals. CRS is hoping for volunteers to help package 200,000 meals, which will be delivered to Burkina Faso in West Africa by Christmas, Price said.

CRS will welcome monetary donations during the papal visit, Price said, but the focus will be on service in an effort to stay consistent with Pope Francis’ desire to have “a church engaged in the world.” CRS intends on using the visit as an opportunity to discuss its focuses, such as fair trade and the impact of climate change on impoverished groups of people. “We are taking full advantage on pushing out our mission on what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Price said. “We are thankful for our 10 minutes of fame.”

Price said that CRS hopes that, after the World Meeting of Families, CRS will stay in people’s minds whether it is to donate, advocate or take the opportunity to learn about various initiatives.