People of all faiths, and Catholics especially, look forward with great joy to Pope Francis’s visit to the United States from Sept. 22 through Sept. 27. He is only the fourth pontiff to do so while pope. Whenever a pope visits the United States, it reminds American Catholics that we are part of a universal church with a 2,000-year history. We are proud to be Catholics, just as we are proud to be Americans.
“You matter. Be multiplied.”
Under that theme, the Archdiocese launched a special campaign called “Food for All: Be Multiplied” as a way to welcome Pope Francis. Its goal is to do our part to end food insecurity in our own back yard in honor of the Holy Father, who has launched a global campaign called “One Human Family, Food for All,” with the ambitious aim of eradicating systemic hunger by 2025.
As a Catholic community, we help people every day through Catholic Charities and Catholic Social Services, as well as many other charities, churches, schools, and healthcare facilities. Consistently we do so with other faith communities and people of good will. This summer, however, we have been making a special effort to tackle hunger under the “Food for All” banner.
Although the campaign has not yet concluded, it is already clear that it has been a great success. Hundreds of parishes, schools, agencies, and institutions of the Archdiocese have pledged hundreds of thousands of food items for distribution to local pantries. The faithful from all of our 19 counties have written nearly 11,000 letters advocating for life-giving nutritional programs in our federal budget, more than doubling our goal of 5,000. And “Pope Francis Houses” are being built for families in Dayton and Cincinnati through Habitat for Humanity.
Although “Food for All” is an initiative of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, everyone is welcome to join. Please visit www.stirintoflame.com/foodforall to learn how you can participate. Or join the efforts of your own faith community or a food pantry.
For all that has been done so far, I am deeply grateful. I can think of nothing that the Holy Father would appreciate more than to know that the occasion of his visit inspired so much generosity and prophetic witness for the poor and vulnerable. I will be reporting these results to him through the Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s representative in the United States.
As part of his visit, Pope Francis will be the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, speaking at 9:20 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24. I have asked our pastors to ring their church bells at that time. I hope that you will have the opportunity to listen to the Holy Father’s message to our leaders and to us. If not, please stop and say a prayer when you hear the bells.
The fact that Pope Francis can share his thoughts on Capitol Hill is a stirring reminder of the freedom of religion that we have historically enjoyed in the United States as people of faith. That freedom is endangered today as some courts and government officials redefine it as merely the freedom to teach and worship, not the freedom to exercise our faith. However, the first clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
With this freedom, our faith propels us constantly into the public square to shape a society that advances all human life and dignity, families and communities, economic justice, peace and solidarity, and care for the Earth. As faithful citizens, we should all follow Pope Francis’s lead by advocating to our elected leaders for such a civilization of love and a culture of life.
The Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr has been spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati since 2009. The archdiocese is the 38th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with almost 500,000 Catholics, and has the sixth largest network of Catholic schools in terms of enrollment. The 19-county territory includes 211 parishes and 111 Catholic primary and secondary schools.