News & Politics

How Catholic Charities Are Preparing for Pope Francis’s Visit to DC

Good thing the pope is as media-savvy as his followers.

Photo by Giulio Napolitano /

Erik Salmi is not who you would expect to work at the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the charity group that will be hosting Pope Francis during his visit in September. He is young, tall, and blond—but bringing in the unexpected seems to be exactly what the current pontiff is all about.

In the two-plus years since his election, Pope Francis has become a globally popular figure for his personality and humanity, qualities that his predecessor, Bendict XVI, often seemed to lack. He also has a very active social media presence—qualities that have spurred the Archdiocese of Washington to get people engaged in the papal visit through routes outside the church’s traditional methods.

Catholics in DC are pledging to “Walk With Francis” by participating in a social media and charity campaign they are hoping will go viral.

Participants can sign up in three ways: One option is pledging to pray regularly; another is to volunteer with charitiable or service-based organizations. The third is to engage in direct advocacy or action, with the end goal of “promoting human life and dignity.” People can submit a pledge on Salmi’s website, and tweet their contributions using the hashtag #WalkWithFrancis.

“We tried to create something that satisfies the hardcore Catholics, along with those who aren’t Catholic at all,” Salmi says.

Fred Serran, Catholic Charities’ corporate controller, falls into the latter category. In fact, he is Jewish. He has pledged to volunteer on Christmas, so others can spend time with their families.

Salmi says 1,300 individuals and 44 organizations and parishes have pledged so far, including several familiar names.

Olympic swimming gold-medalist Katie Ledecky says she’ll support Catholic Charities of DC, Shepherd’s Table of Silver Spring, and Bikes for the World.

The Rev. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, has pledged to spend a night with the homeless.

National reliever Craig Stammen is going to memorize Matthew 5.

Catholic Charities plans to aggregate all the pledges into a book, that will be presented to Pope Francis during his visit to their G street location on September 24. A list of every participant will be included.