CINCINNATI -- The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the United States is inspiring local Roman Catholics to do good works in his name, especially providing food for the hungry, a cause dear to the pontiff’s heart.
The pope plans to visit Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia this Tuesday through Sunday. The Church’s World Meeting of Families is being held in Philadelphia, and it traditionally ends with a Mass led by the pope. As WCPO.com previously reported, several hundred local Catholics plan to attend the gathering and see the pope, some of them traveling on buses chartered by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
But those who don’t make the trip also can participate in good works that the archdiocese has organized as part of its campaign to welcome the pope.
Because the pope has challenged the world to end hunger by 2025, the archdiocese has named its campaign Food for All, said Sean Ater, director of the archdiocese Office of New Evangelization, which coordinates outreach for parishes and schools.
The campaign -- which has its own social media hashtag, “bemultiplied” -- is modeled on the Bible story of Jesus feeding a multitude with only a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish. “We’re trying to inspire people to give a bit and feed a lot of people,” Ater said. “We’re doing that as a way to welcome (the pope) and show that we’ve been inspired by him.”
The campaign’s goal is to get pledges of at least one million items of food before the pope arrives, Ater said, and more than half that amount already has been collected. More than 100 parishes, schools, businesses and other organizations are participating in the food collection campaign, he said.
Lobbying To End Hunger
On social media, the archdiocese is challenging people to donate five food items to local food pantries and challenge their friends to do the same, Ater said. They can drop off those items at any Catholic school in the archdiocese.
The archdiocese has also joined Bread for the World, a Washington-based non-profit that lobbies decision makers to end hunger, in Bread for the World’s annual Offering of Letters campaign, which encourages people of faith to write their congressional representatives about hunger. The archdiocese hopes to get letters from 5,000 local Catholics by Sept. 18, in time to send them to Ohio’s representatives before the pope addresses a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24.
The archdiocese has also arranged for that speech to be shown on the big monitors over Fountain Square, Ater said, via livestream from the U.S. Catholic Bishops, which is providing the feed. Archdiocese offices will close and its employees will walk to Fountain Square, say a prayer and watch the speech together, Ater said.
Construction has begun on two Habitat for Humanity houses, one in Dayton and one in Cincinnati, in honor of the pope’s visit, Ater said. An anonymous donor paid for much of the cost of materials, he said, with volunteers from across the archdiocese donating their labor.
Sending A Welcome From Cincinnati
These good works are intended to welcome the pope and show that he has inspired his people locally, Ater said. “We’re really trying to make an impact on our own community,” he said. “No one should be hungry in Cincinnati.”
Individual parishes are also welcoming the pope in their own way. Over the weekend of Sept. 11-13, the sports club at Our Lady of the Visitation in Mack collected canned goods at the admissions gate for the soccer and football games held there, Pastoral Associate for Outreach Bill Tonnis said.
About 2,100 pounds of food collected at the games and at weekend Masses were delivered Monday to the food pantry of St. Leo the Great Church in North Fairmount, which Tonnis said is a poor parish of mostly Guatemalan immigrants and refugees from Africa.
In March, the pope declared a Holy Year of Mercy that would begin Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, asking the Church to focus on merciful love and works of mercy during that time. In observance of that declaration, Our Lady of the Visitation plans to focus on a different work of mercy each month, starting in September with feeding the hungry, Tonnis said.
Pope Francis has brought a new energy and an air of compassion to the Church, Tonnis said.
His coming to the United States is very significant, Tonnis said, because the Church here has often felt somewhat disconnected from the Vatican. “I think a lot of former Catholics will be drawn by this man to reassess their faith,” he added.