WASHINGTON (CNS) — In anticipation of Pope Francis’ September visit to Washington, the Archdiocese of Washington and its Catholic Charities arm have launched an effort that challenges members of the local community to reach out to those in need.
Called the “Walk With Francis Pledge,” the campaign invites people to serve others in their community and then share their pledge on social media. The pledge involves three ways to participate in that “walk”:
— Through prayer and learning about the faith: http://walkwithfrancis.org/pledge/pray.
— Through charitable service to others: http://walkwithfrancis.org/pledge/serve.
— Through taking to spread the Gospel in families, workplaces and public policy: http://walkwithfrancis.org/pledge/act.
The campaign was announced by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, at a July 22 news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“‘The Walk with Francis Pledge’ offers people the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the Holy Father and answer his call to bring Christ’s love, mercy and hope to others, especially those on the margins of society,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
The pledge challenge, the cardinal said, is a reflection of what Pope Francis calls on all people to do. “His (the pope’s) challenge to us is to care for one another, to look out for the needs of each other.”
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for us to keep our focus on those whose needs are greater than ours, the marginalized, the poor, our brothers and sisters,” the cardinal said.
On Sept. 24, the last day of Pope Francis’ Sept. 22-24 visit to Washington, the pope will visit with several clients of Catholic Charities, and then bless the agency’s clients, staff and volunteers and make remarks to the guests gathered at lunchtime for the St. Maria’s Meals program run by Catholic Charities.
Msgr. Enzler noted that he is “beyond excited” as Catholic Charities prepares for the pope’s visit.
“The pope will stand right here two months from now, this is a great chance to celebrate his presence among us,” Msgr. Enzler said of the “Walk with Francis Pledge.”
“The Holy Father’s words are special, but to me his actions are spectacular,” Msgr. Enzler said in noting how the pope reaches out to the elderly, the infirm, the imprisoned and the poor. “All you have to do for the Walk with Francis Pledge is sign up, take a photo and challenge others. We hope that 100,000 people locally will take the pledge.”
“You can pray for the pope, read one of his encyclicals, you can serve in your community or your parish, you can do a work of justice or something to help change a person’s circumstances,” he said.
Pledges will be shared on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #WalkwithFrancis. Those who take the pledge can challenge others on social media to also take the pledge at http://tinyurl.com/os4ptvk.
Cardinal Wuerl will present the pope with a book including all the social media posts with the #WalkwithFrancis hashtag.
The “Walk With Francis Pledge” is open to all people, not just Catholics, Cardinal Wuerl said, because “our Holy Father seems to touch the hearts of everybody.”
“The Holy Father’s visit is the cause of great excitement all over the community and in fact all over the country. He is hugely popular because he is seen as a person who cares for all people, especially those in need,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “You can take the pledge in any language. Everybody is invited. This effort includes everyone who wants to be a part of it.”
The cardinal added that “we invite all in our community to share in the opportunity to help others. Our goal is to allow everyone to enter into a physical, tangible way to help others.”
At the news conference, Msgr. Enzler and several local celebrities took the “Walk With Francis Pledge.” Msgr. Enzler said that his pledge is to spend a night with the homeless served by Catholic Charities.
Among those taking the pledge was Montgomery County Executive Isaiah “Ike” Leggett, of Maryland; the county is part of the archdiocese.
Leggett promised to donate money to Catholic Charities, and he also vowed to make personal efforts. “This (‘Walk With Francis Pledge’) is something that can touch our community and touch our world,” he said.
Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky, University of Maryland head basketball coach Mark Turgeon and Washington Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen have either already taken the pledge or will have videos made of them making the pledge.
Robert Crawford, a formerly homeless man who was assisted by Catholic Charities and now volunteers there, was among those taking the pledge.
“I’ll take the pledge. I was homeless for four years, so I know what it means when people help,” he said. “My pledge will be to help somebody trying real hard to get themselves together.”
Fred Sarran, a member of Congregation Har Shalom synagogue in Potomac, Maryland, who works at Catholic Charities, also promised to take the pledge. He said that he and his family would volunteer on Christmas Day to feed the homeless so that Christians could be with their family. He added that he also would challenge members of his synagogue to take the pledge.
“Since being elected pontiff, one of the things that Pope Francis has highlighted in his ministry has been concern and care for the poor and the marginalized. In doing so, he is reminding us of something that the Catholic Church has always done — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
“It is my hope that we can all take inspiration from Pope Francis’ example and our entire community can join together to help brighten our world in this way,” he said.
Szczepanowski is a staff writer at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.