POPE FRANCIS won't arrive in Philadelphia until September, when the World Meeting of Families convenes. But it's not too soon for local Catholics - and people of all faiths - to start thinking about what to share with him when he comes.
Philadelphia could offer Pope Francis a tour of shelters, soup kitchens and other programs in which people with resources (holiday toys, winter coats, tutoring, etc.) give to those without.
But our region is also gaining a reputation for adopting another strategy to bridge growing social and economic gaps. Why not take the pope to see faith-based community organizing in action?
This approach brings people together from many backgrounds to change public policies that, intentionally or not, trap far too many people in endless cycles of poverty and injustice. This work takes time, planning and teams of motivated people. But the impact can be amazing.
Community organizing also packs a spiritual punch by challenging people of faith to look at well-intentioned assumptions that many of us have that "givers" and "receivers" are two separate categories of people, and to replace them with the conviction that we're all stronger when we pool our strengths and take on the big issues together. As a Catholic, I will always be called to "feed the hungry and clothe the naked" (Matt. 25), echoing the Torah's call to "open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land." (Deut. 15). Community organizing gives me an additional way to do this. One that pushes me past my comfort zone into new territory that I feel my faith calls me to enter - the "culture of encounter" that Pope Francis talks about and lives.
Through my parish (St. Vincent de Paul in Germantown) and my husband's synagogue (Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough), I'm proud to be an active participant in two interfaith organizations that are working on issues that affect thousands of Philadelphians:
* POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild), one of 50 affiliates in the PICO National Network, successfully promoted a ballot measure in the spring requiring companies with city contracts to pay workers - such as airport wheelchair stewards - a living wage. This fall, POWER published a report showing that state funding has routinely favored majority-white schools over their majority-African-American or Latino counterparts. This report is part of a long-term strategy to leverage the strength of our faith community to achieve a funding formula for our children's schools that is both fair and full.
* Philadelphia's New Sanctuary Movement, also part of a national network, works with immigrant families and congregations committed to immigration reform. Earlier this year, it successfully prodded Mayor Nutter to end local police collaboration with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that had led to unwarranted detentions and deportations and detracted from public safety.
We have much to show Pope Francis about how people of his Catholic faith and many others here in Philadelphia are finding visionary ways to continue William Penn's Holy Experiment. Meanwhile, if your congregation would like to join POWER (powerphiladelphia.org) or the New Sanctuary Movement (sanctuaryphiladelphia.org), check their websites.