“We Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.” -Pope Francis
As Pope Francis became the fourth Pontiff to ever step foot in the United States this past weekend, Philadelphians everywhere laid out the red carpet for his welcome. Banners were hung everywhere, welcoming the Pope to the City of Brotherly Love. Pope Francis’s commitment to social justice has inspired so many to focus on service to others, and we at Habitat Philadelphia are no different! On September 23 we welcomed over 30 students from local Catholic high schools to volunteer at our Pope Francis House, one of five new homes we’re building in North Philadelphia, at a development we call Hope Village.
Students from Catholic high schools across the city converged at the Pope Francis House for our Catholic Day of Service on September 23rd. Students from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, La Salle College High School, and Mercy Vocational High School worked together to push the house forward, tackling everything from framing walls to electrical work to earth-moving. Inspired by the work, a group leader named Alex shared a story from Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s earlier days, long before he became Pope Francis. As a teacher of novices at seminary, Bergoglio would check their shoes each night when they returned home, to make sure they had walked through mud and dirt that day–the best proof that the novices had spent their day serving others in need. By extension, this same spirit of service was applicable on our construction site, too. “Today, we’re getting our shoes dirty in honor of Pope Francis,” said Alex.
A generous anonymous donor has provided a gift of $60,000 to sponsor the Pope Francis House, which we’re building in tribute to the Pope’s visit to our city. The donor seeks to inspire the Philadelphia community to match this gift by donating to support this special homebuilding project. This challenge is a special opportunity to bring together both Catholic and non-Catholic communities to build a home for a local family in need while honoring Pope Francis’s belief that “Work confers dignity.” And it’s a reminder to continue turning faith into action even after the Pope has finished his visit to Philadelphia.
After working through the morning, volunteers broke to grab lunch and spend some time reflecting on the purpose of their day of service in honor of Pope Francis. “There are prayers of word, and there are prayers of deed,” said one student. “Today, it’s prayers of deed–prayers of action.” And that statement is being lived out even after the Day of Service. The Pope Francis House is on track to be completed before Christmas, when Lisa Wilson and her family will purchase the home and celebrate with Habitat and the community as they open the front door for the very first time. We’ll invite these same hard-working students to come back for the home dedication, joining countless other volunteers and community members to see how generosity and teamwork have benefited others.
And this is another enduring legacy from Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia. Long after he’s left our city, Lisa and her family will still benefit from the ideas of service and selflessness of his visit. They will know the stability and safety of affordable homeownership because so many chose to help and get their shoes dirty.