It’s 40 days until Pope Francis, a staunch advocate for the poor, comes to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
That’s why the Diocese of Camden and the nonprofit group Catholic Charities are launching a program called “40 Days of Francis.”
The program aims to shed light on poverty in South Jersey, where Bishop Dennis Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden says some of state’s poorest conditions exist.
“It’s not just focused here in the city of Camden and nearby cities,” he said. “It’s very extensive throughout Cape May County, Atlantic County, Cumberland County. And Cumberland County has the highest rate of poverty in the state of New Jersey.”
The effort will be led by Catholic Charities, a nonprofit group that works closely with the diocese and provides support services to residents in need.
As part of “40 Days of Francis,” Catholic Charities will hold open houses at its offices across South Jersey; hand out cards with statistics about poverty; and host a food relay with local Catholic high school students.
“All the focus is on the security and bah bah bah and all the logistics,” said Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities.
“But it’s important for us and the Catholic church and people of good will to not forget the essential character of this visit, so that’s why we’re doing our ’40 Days’ [of Francis] event.”
The nonprofit also sponsored an essay contest for parishioners who wanted to attend the World Meeting of Families but wouldn’t have been able to afford tickets.
Among the eight families to win tickets were Christina Silvaria and her fiancé. Silvaria, a nurse, said she wants to learn how better to help people who are taking care of family members and struggling to afford health care.
“These folks are just exhausted. And they are doing their best with very limited resources, with very little response from the communities in which they live,” she said. “So this is an exciting time to be Christian, an exciting time to be Catholic.
“The pope himself will bless us with this visit, and this just really launches it for all of us,” Silvaria said. “So I’m very much part of the energy now.”
Pope Francis will arrive in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26th.