Catholics in Washington, D.C. are hoping a new charity pledge will go viral like last year’s “Ice Bucket Challenge,” but there’s a new twist — this pledge is for Pope Francis. “The 'Walk with Francis' Pledge offers people the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the Holy Father and answer his call to bring Christ's love, mercy and hope to others, especially those on the margins of society,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. said on Wednesday. “The goal is to allow everyone in this community to enter into a physical, tangible way of helping others so that we can offer that as our gift to the Pope,” he said at the opening press conference for the campaign. The pledge is open to anyone who wants to express solidarity with Pope Francis through acts of charity before he comes to visit Washington, D.C. in late September. Participants can pledge to give money to charity, pray more, perform acts of service, or promote Church teaching in the public square on a number of issues like respect for human life or immigration. They announce their pledge on social media using the hashtag #WalkwithFrancis and challenge someone else to take the pledge. Pledges can vary from person to person — it’s “simple,” “flexible,” and “measurable,” Monsignor John Enzler, head of Catholic Charities, D.C. who organized the pledge, told CNA. The organization is partnering with the Archdiocese of Washington for the campaign. And the campaign is already taking off in D.C. Pledge-takers include 2012 Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky, who promised to assist various charitable groups; George Washington University men’s basketball coach Mike Lonergan, who pledged to attend daily Mass more often; and Washington Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen, who promised to memorize Matthew chapter 5. Msgr. Enzler hopes to get businesses involved to help the needy. Perhaps law firms could pledge to offer free legal advice to the poor who need it, or food chains could donate food or gift certificates to the homeless, he said. Even the city’s public transit system WMATA could donate day passes to the needy. He acknowledged that the campaign resembles the ALS Association’s 2014 “Ice Bucket Challenge,” where participants doused themselves in ice water and challenged others to follow suit or give money to the association for research. That viral challenge ultimately raised $115 million. Now, Msgr. Enzler hopes that the power of social media will make “Walk with Francis” go viral and that other dioceses will participate. While the results may be more donations to charity, the pledge is about more than philanthropy, he explained. The idea is for people to make concrete expressions of solidarity with Pope Francis so that when he arrives in September, he will see that Americans have been carrying out his message of prayer and service. “I can't think of a better gift for his Holiness,” Msgr. Enzler said. The monsignor himself has pledged to spend a night with the homeless. Tim Brant, a long-time national sportscaster, took the pledge alongside Cardinal Wuerl outside of Catholic Charities, D.C. He pledged to pray for Francis and read the Bible every day with others, especially his family. “First and foremost, I’m going to get my family as involved as we possibly can,” he told CNA. “I’m going to make sure that their spiritual lives are in order.” “I’m going to try to challenge the rest of my extended family and friends as well to get back into Church and that’ll be a challenge,” he continued. “You keep hearing these reports on television about the waning of Christianity and the churchgoers on Sunday are way down in this country,” he admitted. “This is a tough world right now. And when you read the paper or see the news every night, it’s really depressing what’s taking place in our country, in the world.” “I think a lot of people are depressed, and if they can just have something to reach to or look to that’s a little bit bigger than them — I think that’s why I want to walk with Francis, because he’s bigger than us. Like Pope Paul was, he had his arms open. And I think that’s going to be a great motivation for so many of us in this country throughout the world.”
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