What does a church do when 36,000 people are running past on a Sunday morning?

Be present to them.

For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of putting on my Augustinian religious habit and standing outside to cheer for those running the Independence Blue Cross Broad Street Run. Both years proved to be an amazing experience.

My religious habit and hand wave tend to catch the eye of those who pass by. Almost every person smiles and waves back. Most of those same people even ask for a blessing as they run past me. Many others ask for prayers for themselves or a loved one. Several even stop to take a selfie with me. Still others admit they had to miss Mass that morning due to the run and want to know where they can go that evening.

In all cases, I pray each runner observed a Church that was present and cared for them.

The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia is situated just before mile 7 of the run. It is a point when many are facing fatigue and the reality they still have 3 miles to go.

Watching faces turn from struggle to smile as runners pass our Church on these runs is symbolic of how the Shrine accompanies people who visit every day. Through the inspiration of Saint Rita, we offer hope, healing, and reconciliation to people of all ages who enter our doors facing fatigue from the various burdens they have encountered on the long journey through life.

As Saint Augustine once said, “hope is a necessity for us in these days of exile from heaven. It is our consolation on the journey.

When a traveler gets tired of walking along the dusty road, he puts up with fatigue because he hopes to arrive home. Rob him of any hope of arriving and immediately his strength for walking is broken.

So too, the hope for heaven which we have now is an important factor easing the pain of our just exile and sometimes harsh journey.” (Sermon 158, 8)

While city churches often face many unique challenges not faced by those in the suburbs — limited parking being one of them — I am grateful God has called me to serve here.

The opportunities to be a positive presence to the people of the City of Philadelphia in the ordinary day to day experiences of their lives are limitless.

We look forward to the many encounters we will have as events take place on South Broad Street this summer.

To learn more or support the mission and ministries of the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, visit: www.SaintRitaShrine.org.