When Pope Francis visits the United States in September, he won’t veer far from a small stretch of the I-95 corridor, hitting up Washington, New York, and then Philadelphia.
With no offense to the Northeast intended, one group wants to make sure Francis sees there’s a great big Church in the US. To help make the case, they’ve enlisted the help of FlatFrancis.com.
Flat Francis is the creation of Matthew Paolelli, a digital communications specialist at Catholic Extension, a grant-making organization that works with 94 “mission-dioceses” in the United States to provide funds for priests, lay leaders, and infrastructure. These dioceses are usually smaller, poorer, and growing in population compared to the traditional urban centers of American Catholicism.
“We were trying to find a way to show the experience of the American Catholic Church to Pope Francis,” Paolelli told Crux. “We really know the Catholic Church in America, and we see a lot of sides of the Church the average American doesn’t see, places where people are economically struggling, but who have a really deep faith.”
Paolelli said the inspiration for Flat Francis came from Flat Stanley, a children’s book series chronicling a boy flattened by a bulletin board that was later turned into a teaching tool.
Those who want to take part simply visit FlatFrancis.com and print out the pope’s cartoon rendering, head to an interesting place, snap a photo, and upload to social media with the hashtag #FlatFrancis.
Catholic Extension collects the photos and posts them on Facebook. They’ll be turned into a photo mosaic of the pope’s likeness and given to Francis just before he arrives in Washington.
Flat Francis has been photographed more than 1,000 times, including with comedian Jim Gaffigan. He’s shown up in two American ballparks (Wrigley Field and Nationals Park), he’s found his way to the Indianapolis 500, and he’s visited 48 of the 50 states.
Reaching all 50 might be a challenge; the missing states are the two least religious in the country. Your move, Vermont and New Hampshire.
A sampling of Flat Francis: