Through serving, people continue to 'Walk With Francis' a year after trip

By Kelly Seegers

(CNS) — As Pope Francis boarded the plane after his visit to Washington a year
ago, he carried with him a book containing more than 100,000 pledges that
people in the Archdiocese of Washington had made to “Walk With Francis” by
either praying, serving or acting to improve their community.

up to the pope’s visit, the Archdiocese of Washington, along with Catholic
Charities, launched the Walk With Francis initiative, which encouraged people
to prepare for the pope’s visit by following in his example of love and mercy.

were asked to make pledges to pray regularly for the pontiff, to serve by
caring for those in need and supporting charitable efforts, or to act to
promote human life and dignity, justice and peace, family life and religious
freedom, care for creation and the common good.

the months that followed, individuals, schools, parishes and other
organizations made pledges to help their community in different ways. Many
people posted their pledges on social media, using #WalkwithFrancis. The day
before the pope arrived in Washington Sept. 22, 2015, the Walk With Francis
pledges topped the 100,000 mark. The Archdiocese of Washington then compiled
all of the pledges into a 400-page book that they presented to the pope
as a parting gift when he left in late afternoon Sept. 24, 2015.

Little Flower School in Great Mills, Maryland, each class decided for itself
how they were going to Walk With Francis. Students in the pre-kindergarten
class pledged to act like Jesus toward one another, the second grade pledged to
do an act of kindness every day, the fifth grade pledged to plant a school
garden, the seventh grade pledged to pray the prayer of St. Francis every day,
and the eighth grade pledged to do guided meditations on mercy.

Peters, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade religion, saw the pledges that
her students made go beyond the time leading up to Pope Francis’ visit. Both
the seventh and the eighth grade continued their prayers and meditations
regularly throughout the year. In addition, two students from her seventh-grade
class were inspired by the prayer of St. Francis to start a pet supply drive
that now runs annually from the beginning of the year until the blessing of the
pets on St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day.

was very affirming for me to be a part of it, to watch my students grow through
the experience and to be able to be a part of the larger church in that way,”
Peters told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. “It
definitely strengthened my faith to be a part of that with my students.”

prominent figures in the Washington area also signed the Walk With Francis Pledge.
Katie Ledecky, the five-time Olympic swimming gold medalist who attends Little
Flower Parish in Bethesda, Maryland, pledged to help Shepherd’s Table, Catholic
Charities and Bikes for the World. John Carlson, a member of the Washington
Capitals, pledged to “continue to work on my faith and become a better father
every day.”

Salmi, director of communications for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of
Washington, said these pledges “helped bring some great energy to the

The Catholic University of America, students were encouraged to sign pledges
after the opening Mass of the school year. Many of the students, such as James Walsh, still wear their “Walk With
Francis” wristbands as a reminder of the pledges they made that day.

“I like to keep it on as a good reminder … to stay
humble,” Walsh said.

Catholic University also had a “Serve With Francis
Day,” where hundreds of students went out to serve their local community.

said the effects of the Walk With Francis initiative are hard to measure,
because it is similar to when “you drop a stone in the middle of a pond and the
ripples go pretty far and wide.” However, he said he did know that all of the
Catholic Charities programs benefited from having volunteers that joined them.

good deeds did not end when the pope left. Since his visit, more than 10,000
additional pledges have been made. Through the Drive with Francis initiative, the
Fiat that Pope Francis rode in is being used to help those in need. There is
even a new hashtag, #DrivewithFrancis, so that people can share on social media
what they are doing with the papal Fiat.

Fiats were used by Pope Francis during his visit to Washington and later the
cars were donated to the archdiocese by Pope Francis and Fiat Chrysler
Automobiles. The proceeds of the auction of one of the cars are being donated
to various charities.

private donor who wanted to remain anonymous is letting the archdiocese use the
second Fiat via the #DrivewithFrancis initiative to promote good works,
activities and social service programs aiding the local community.

car has been parked at various events in the area, collecting food for a
community food bank or baby items for a crisis pregnancy center in Washington.
It was present at the Washington Nationals’ Faith Day, where people could line
up to make breakfast bags for the homeless served by Catholic Charities’ Cup of
Joe program. After the game, 550 Cup of Joe bags were delivered to Adam’s Place
shelter, which is run by Catholic Charities.

seems pretty perfect for me in summarizing how His Holiness would want the car
to be used,” Salmi said.

the first anniversary of the pope’s visit to Washington, Catholic Charities and
the Archdiocese of Washington launched a “Walk With Francis 2.0” initiative for
the Sept. 24-25 weekend, when people could renew the pledge or make a new one
if they had not done it before.

in the archdiocese planned to have pledge cards for parishioners to fill out
during Mass and bring up to the altar.

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Seegers is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of
the Archdiocese of Washington.

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