300 "Francis in Philly" Pilgrims Make Journey to Philadelphia Not to See the Pope, But to Respond to His Challenge

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300 pilgrims make their way to Philadelphia to sleep in campgrounds and live out of backpacks in order to put into action the words of Pope Francis. They have no tickets to see the Pope and will instead meet with homeless, pray with other pilgrims on the streets of Philadelphia and hand out free books and other aids.

Pilgrims wearing Francis In Philly Mission shirts

"We're just doing what Pope Francis is asking us to do -- getting out of the churches and into the streets. We are loving and serving people. It's that simple." - Dave Sloan

Today, 300 pilgrims make their way to Philly to join tens of thousands of other travelers to the city of Brotherly Love. But the hope they bring is not for a chance to see the Pope. In fact, they have no tickets and they may never get to see the Pope. But that does not bother this group. Their pilgrimage is not to see Francis, but to put into action the words that he has challenged every human being to live by – to love and serve.

Buses departed early this morning from Atlanta carrying pilgrims ranging in age from 8 years old to over 65. Pilgrims include college students from Vermont, high school students from Philadelphia, priests and seminarians from Atlanta, Ohio, Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina and Illinois. Even an engaged couple from Singapore has made the journey to join this group on a mission they believe is inspired by the very words of the Gospel but called forth by Pope Francis as a theme of his pontificate.

“We're taking and answering the Pope Francis Challenge. He calls us to have meaningful encounters with every person we meet and to let them know there is hope in the world and hope has a name – Jesus Christ. He called, we answered,” says Janice Givens, Founder of Go FISH Outreach, and co-director of the Francis in Philly mission.

The group arrives near Philadelphia Thursday night and will sleep in a campground. On Friday and Saturday, the large group will be divided into “Family Teams” of 30 and sent out into the streets. Each group will have three goals:

  •     They will serve the homeless
  •     They will talk and meet with people on the streets of Philadelphia, collect their needs and wants in prayer intentions and return to camp each night to pray for them
  •     They will consecrate the streets and people of Philadelphia and pilgrims from around the world to God through walking rosaries and Divine Mercy chaplets

Dave Sloan, Founder of Love and Serve, and co-director of the effort says the Francis in Philly mission is a direct response to the Holy Father’s very first encyclical titled, “The Joy of the Gospel.” In this document Pope Francis urges the faithful in the Church to “go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.”

Says Sloan, "We're just doing what Pope Francis is asking us to do -- getting out of the churches and into the streets. We are loving and serving people. It's that simple."

Givens and Sloan regularly engage in similar missions in their hometown of Atlanta with monthly, weekly and even daily outreach to the homeless, vulnerable and marginalized in the community, and those just searching for the message of hope and love.

“We may never even see the Pope on this mission but we’re with him. We hear him. And we are responding to his challenges," says Givens. She reflects, “The Pope urges us to be obedient to Christ’s call to go forth from our own comfort zones, to go into the ‘peripheries’ to reach anyone in need of the light of the Gospel, and that’s what we’re doing.”

You can follow the Francis in Philly mission by visiting their blog and website at http://www.francisinphilly.net.

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Kevin Wandra
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Lisa Wheeler