Looking for the Pope Francis effect?
For Augustinian Fr. Bill Waters, it’s alive and well at St. Augustine Church in Old City Philadelphia.
A landmark near the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the church was founded in 1796 by the Augustinian Fathers, who also operate another venerable Philadelphia institution, Villanova University, located just outside the city limits.
St. Augustine is both a destination and a neighborhood church. Many come from outside the neighborhood to attend Mass, including a large community of Filipinos from the metro area who have adopted the church as their own. Center City Philadelphia has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, as condos attract newcomers and retirees who return to city life after rearing families in the suburbs.
Upon taking on pastor duties in 2014, Waters sought a unifying theme for the eclectic parish, and found it in the statements of Francis. He organized study groups around various papal documents before the pope visited Philadelphia in September 2015.
Waters discovered a renewed interest in things Catholic. Jews told him how much they admired Francis. And Catholics, he said, “feel good about being Catholic again.”
St. Augustine began to feed off that new positive outlook by putting the pope’s words into action.
“We built on what was already present in the context of what Pope Francis discussed about laypeople taking a more active role in the church,” he told NCR. The parish calls its plan “Creating a Community of Involvement and Evangelization.”
The Pastoral Council put aside all other business and devoted months to reading and reflecting upon the pope’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). After the study was completed, Waters challenged the group to come up with a pastoral plan to address the parish needs.
They looked on what was already in place and how St. Augustine could be a positive force.
Philadelphia’s role as a medical hub generated increased parish interest in Gift of Life, a program that provides hospitality to families and patients seeking transplants in the city.