Pope Francis might not be getting too far from the East Coast during his September 22-27 trip to the United States, but charity Catholic Extension’s Flat Francis was helping the people of Chicagoa welcome the Pontiff this week.
Employees from the organisation set up a freestanding version of the papal cutout on Daley Plaza at Washington and Dearborn streets with the iconic Picasso sculpture in the background and encouraged commuters and other passers-by to pose for a picture.
“I’m big pals with Pope Francis,” quipped Carrole Hollowaye, one of the first people to stop for a picture.
Lila Licea, who saw St John Paul II at Providence of God Parish when he visited Chicago in 1979, said she wished Pope Francis could have come to the Windy City.
“I love that he’s so humble, so down to earth,” said Licea, who attends St Pius V Parish. “You don’t see that in a regular priest, let alone the Pope.”
Matt Paolelli, Extension’s manager of digital communications, came up with the idea in the spring, based on the popular children’s book “Flat Stanley” and the myriad school activities that involve taking pictures of the book character in different settings.
“I was kind of looking for an easy way for people to express their connection to the Church,” said Paolelli, who was out on the plaza taking pictures for people who stopped.
Extension commissioned artist David Lee Ciszko to make a simple cartoon drawing of Pope Francis and made it available for people to download and print out, with instructions to take “selfies” with it and post them on social media with the hashtag #FlatFrancis.
As of September 22, more than 3,000 selfies with the paper pope had been shared, Paolelli said. Photos have come from all 50 states and include everything from Knights of Columbus to parish youth group activities. More than 50 people have posted Flat Francis with their bishops with their bishops, and well-known Flat Francis fans include comedian Jim Gaffigan and Chicago Bears announcer and former player Tom Thayer.
On September 2, Pope Francis himself was photographed with the image when Extension President Father Jack Wall and Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, Extension’s chancellor, brought a group of pilgrims to the Vatican.
When the Pope was shown the paper version of himself, “he let out a belly laugh,” said Fr Wall, who has a photograph of that meeting on his phone.
Wall said the campaign has been a success because it is accessible to everyone, and it exemplifies Extension’s mission of reaching out to people at the margins — something Pope Francis emphasises over and over again.
“You cannot go to the poorest places in the United States and not find the activity of the Catholic Church, and that’s because of Extension,” Wall said.
Flat Francis was scheduled to leave Chicago after the morning appearance in the plaza and fly to Washington, for the canonisation Mass of Blessed Junipero Serra today.
At the end of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, Extension plans to use the Flat Francis photos to create a mosaic and an album that will be sent to the Vatican.
To take your own Flat Francis picture, visit www.flatfrancis.org to print the image, and share it with the hashtag #FlatFrancis on Twitter or Instagram. People who don’t use social media can email their photos to [email protected]