[Leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September, Shaping the Story will provide regular updates on nonprofit and charity issues as they relate to the pontiff’s first U.S. trip]
Visiting the Philippines on January 18, Pope Francis brought fellow catholics out in droves.
An estimated 6 million people attended what has been officially declared the largest Catholic mass ever held in the county. Appearing in a modest, inexpensive yellow poncho, the Pope spoke about society’s responsibility to children.
The world was moved in particular by his response to an orphaned street girl who had been rescued by a church-run foundation. “Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children? And why are there so few who are helping us?” the 12-year old girl asked.
The ever-empathetic Pope responded, “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question…Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry. There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”
Pope Francis also paid homage to Catholic nonprofit institutions, stopping at Manila’s Catholic university and spending 20 minutes with the father of a volunteer for Catholic Relief Services who died the day before from collapsing scaffolding in the seaside city of Tacloban.
The Pope’s popularity is unquestionable. He has achieved a rock star status, including in the United States, where he has even adorned the cover of Rolling Stone. A Pew Research Center poll shows that around 80 percent of U.S. Catholics – who will finally have an opportunity to see the pontiff during his first U.S. visit this coming September – have a favorable view of Pope Francis.
The focal point of the visit is the World Meeting of Families, scheduled for September 22 through 25 in Philadelphia. Following the conference, millions of people will flock to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to hear Pope Francis speak on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The Vatican’s itinerary will also include either a visit to a children’s hospital or to a juvenile prison facility.
The visit presents a unique opportunity for Philadelphia-based nonprofits to galvanize their volunteers and supporters and to reposition their fundraising strategy and messaging for greater results, as the Archdiocese has already done by laying the groundwork for an ambitious year.
On January 20, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced a $10 million fundraising goal for the annual Catholic Charities appeal – the chief source of revenue for charitable Catholic activities aiding some 200,000 people through 80 programs. Archbishop Chaput has helped turnaround the region’s Catholic fundraising practices since he entered his position in 2011, surpassing $10 million in fundraising in both 2013 and 2014. The added excitement of the Pope’s visit should make this year even more profitable.
With the media attention, as well as the millions of energized Catholics (and non-Catholic philanthropists no less enthralled by the Pope’s presence) descending on the city, Philadelphia-based Catholic charities and nonprofits should follow the Archbishop’s lead and leverage the Vatican’s visit for 2015 fundraising. The pope’s message of charity, in conjunction with his popularity, will provide fuel for nonprofits’ invaluable basic needs work.