Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and local Catholics are taking Pope Francis’ call of service to heart – and in September will honor his U.S. visit by starting work on a local Habitat Kent home being called the Pope Francis Build.
Volunteers will begin working on the home at 708 Oakland Ave. SW on Sept. 26 – the same day Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia. During the next several months, Habitat Kent expects several hundred Catholics from as many as 15 local parishes, schools and Catholic organizations to volunteer on the project. They include the Diocese of Grand Rapids, the Cathedral of St. Andrew, St. Alphonsus, St. Patrick, St. Pius X, St. Robert of Newminster, Saint Thomas the Apostle, St. Stephen, Ss. Peter and Paul, Aquinas College, the Cathedral chapter of the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities West Michigan.
“Historically, we have been greatly blessed by parishes and Catholic students,” said Mark Ogland-Hand, faith relations director at Habitat Kent. “Many groups have already signed up to volunteer on weekends, and we are really hoping to get a big turnout for our weekday volunteer slots. It’s a great opportunity for individual Catholics who are retired to make volunteering a regular part of their week. We hope to set all kinds of volunteer records as local Christians honor Pope Francis’ message of service.”
The pope is an ardent supporter of service, saying, “To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete; it means seeing in every person and face the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely.”It is a message that aligns well with the mission of Habitat Kent, which relies on community volunteers to provide most of its homebuilding and neighborhood repair services. Habitat Kent has had engaged 19,000 volunteer over the past two years.
The Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak, bishop of Grand Rapids,has called onall parishes in the diocese to sign up for a day of service on the build and join him in blessing the new home when it is completed next year. He called the project “a great symbol of service and cooperation.”
“God’s kingdom is in our midst and we are its citizens,” Walkowiak said. “Generosity, compassion and love are the ways that we, as Catholics, show our love for God. I’m proud that so many in our community are active in helping those in need, especially in providing families a worthy place to live.”
A small devotional guide has been created for the project and will be given to volunteers. The publication includes reflections from local Catholic leaders as well as quotes popular at Habitat Kent. The devotional ties Habitat Kent’s mission of transforming lives through neighborhood revitalization and homeownership with Christian teachings.
“Building a house for a family in need is a wonderful way to honor the pope,” said Lori Fedewa, Christian service director at St. Thomas the Apostle. “He is reinvigorating the church through his calls to service and social justice.”
Habitat Kent and local volunteers are not alone in honoring the pontiff’s visit. Catholics in at least 25 cities nationwide are marking the occasion by doing something they believe is at the heart of his papacy – they’re helping low-income families by building Habitat homes.
The pope’s visit will include a private meeting with President Obama, an address to a joint session of Congress, a speech at the United Nations and the saying of Mass in Philadelphia, which is expected to draw more than 1 million people.
When completed early next year, the Pope Francis Build will be the home of a qualifying family whose payments on their zero-interest mortgage will be recycled back into future projects.