WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis is preparing for his first trip to the United States, and PopUpPope wants every Philadelphian to know about it.
About two months ago in a kitchen in Wilmington, Delaware, Christa Scalies and Paul Tanner were inspired by the news of Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, an international conference on the family founded by St. John Paul II. That resulted in them purchasing a cardboard cutout of the pope, and then they took to the streets.
“We are friends who banded together to spread the news about the pope’s visit for the World Meeting of Families 2015, and more importantly, spread the Gospel message to the poor, lost and forgotten that God loves them no matter what,” Scalies told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.
They call themselves PopUpPope, and the name is derived from the fact that the image of the pontiff is folded up so it pops into position and it also “pops up” in various locations around the city, weather permitting. Scalies joked that although good for flowers, rain would destroy the cardboard pope.
Scalies and Tanner take the cardboard image around the city, and they talk to passersby, wave, give photo opportunities to those who desire one, pray with the individuals, listen to their stories, and hand out information on Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.
After arriving in Washington Sept. 22, Pope Francis will be welcomed to the White House by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama Sept. 23. He is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24, making him the first pope to do so.
His U.S. trip includes a Sept. 25 address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He will be in Philadelphia Sept. 26 and 27 for the World Meeting of Families.
Scalies and Tanner also put Bible quotes and former tweets from the pope (@Pontifex) on slips of paper in a jar for people to take.
Tanner and Scalies’ goal is not to preach to the choir, but to reach out and make personal connections and interact with members of all faiths. Tanner is “excited to share that good feeling of God with others.”
“Many people today have lost faith, don’t believe in God and feel alone on the path of life. If our presence on the street can reach one lost soul and make just one person feel less alone and more loved, we know we’re doing God’s work,” said Scalies.
The response to PopUpPope has been a positive one overall. Passersby stop and engage in faith-filled conversations and prayer, shake hands and even offer hugs. There have even been individuals that continued walking by, but made the sign of the cross in front of the image to show respect.
Scalies refers to the public’s reaction and love for the pontiff as “spectacular.”
Once in Rodney Square a security guard in the DuPont Theatre in Wilmington was heard exclaiming, “Look the pope is in the square!” — which brought many workers over to Scalies and Tanner for photo opportunities.
Some confusion has come about as to what the PopUpPope is doing, and Scalies and Tanner get questions about tourist attractions, resources for the local homeless and the location of nearby restrooms.
One small confrontation occurred with a member of the Muslim faith upset about their presence, but they tried to find common ground with him, respecting the clear differences of opinion.
When asked about the possibility of expanding PopUpPope to Washington to promote Pope Francis’ visit in the nation’s capital, they expressed hope that social media posts on #PopUpPope will reach the District of Columbia and that it may inspire individuals to start their own effort to gather support for the pope.
Scalies and Tanner both have signed up to attend the World Meeting of Families and encourage the people they meet to attend or to follow #WMF2015 via social media.
Tanner said he wants to continue the PopUpPope effort following the conclusion of the conference and papal Mass, though on a smaller scale.
“The message of the Gospel and message of Pope Francis will continue on when he leaves the United States,” predicated Scalies.