Pope Francis cutout draws Catholics, non-Catholics alike at outdoor festival

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The Crowe family, pictured with St. Mary of Gostyn Parish's photographic Pope Francis cutout
The Crowe family, pictured with St. Mary of Gostyn Parish's photographic Pope Francis cutout

by Peter Feuerherd

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Looking for a Pope Francis effect?

The people of St. Mary of Gostyn Parish in Downers Grove, Ill., a part of the Joliet diocese, found it via the impact of a paper photographic cutout that was a hit at a local Rotary outdoor festival June 23-26.

At the town event, scores lined up to take photos with the smiling papal cutout with Francis posed smiling in a thumbs-up posture.

"I'm not sure I should, I am Methodist, but I really like the pope, love his merciful plan," said one local who took advantage of the opportunity.

Tom Strolia, a member of the parish evangelization committee which planned the event, said it was easy attracting traffic to the parish's table. The plan was that the papal cutout would bring parishioners together at the local festival to celebrate the church's 125th anniversary. But it went further, as Catholics, non-Catholics and fallen away Catholics were drawn to the table.

"The pope did it for us," he told NCR. "It was surprising how many people stopped by." Each day of the festival, some 70 photos of the papal cutout were taken. It provided a real discussion starter about faith and people's relationship to the church, said Strolia.

The week before, 15 members of the parish youth group built up buzz for the "papal visit" by taking the Francis cutout around town, posing for pictures at local landmarks, sharing the photos on social media. One included a photo of the pope being carried across a town street, "Abbey Road"-Beatles style. Around a dozen members of the parish evangelization team staffed the festival table throughout the weekend.

The word spread rapidly. By the end of the weekend, the parish Facebook reach went up by five times.

[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR's Field Hospital series on parish life and a professor of journalism at St. John's University, New York.]

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