(Evangelization was one of the pastoral priorities that guided the June 6-8, 2014 Archdiocesan Synod. Since then, parishes have implementing these initiatives in various ways. Earlier this year, St. Jerome Parish, Oconomowoc, embarked upon an evangelization effort that went beyond the church and extended into the Oconomowoc community.)
OCONOMOWOC — Pope Francis popped up in businesses around Oconomowoc earlier this year and plenty of people took selfies with the pontiff.
To celebrate the pope’s “Year of Mercy,” Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2106, the Catholic Church’s mission to be a witness to compassion, St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc organized a community search to find a life-size cutout of Pope Francis at locations around town.
By deciphering clues and riddles along with some geocaching coordinates, people could find the pope at eight businesses over an eight-week period from April 3 through May 29.
The contest offered two weekly prizes, including rosaries, prayer games and gift cards to restaurants. Participants who found the pope at all the locations were entered to win a $100 gift card and a Fitbit fitness tracker.
The contest was conceived by Paula and Todd Loepfe, parishioners of St. Jerome. On a visit to a mall in Appleton last Christmas season, they visited a Catholic bookstore where they saw a similar life-size cut out of the pope. They came up with the idea following the “Where’s Waldo?” concept.
The Loepfes pitched their idea to Fr. Tom Brundage, pastor at St. Jerome, who embraced it. They found local businesses, all of whom were either Catholic or Christian, who were happy to host the pope.
The contest started and clues were posted on the St. Jerome Facebook page. One clue hinted: “Sauerbraten, Schnitzel, Beer and Schaum Torte” and led contestants to Golden Mast Inn restaurant on Okauchee Lake.
Another clue offered: “Keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer,” with the pope waiting at Schulte Heating. Other pope sightings occurred at Whelan’s Coffee and Ice Cream and Cooney Sports Locker.
When they found the pope, participants took photos and selfies and submitted them online to be entered for the prizes.
“I think it was really well received,” Paula Loepfe told the Catholic Herald. “Kids were excited and non-Catholics thought it was cool. All of the business owners commented on how interested their customers were in Pope Francis.”
She saw the contest as an excellent way to evangelize and support the Year of Mercy, adding, “I hope this helps people to understand that as Catholics we are an open and welcoming Christian religion.”
Browsing for sports clothing at Cooney’s Sports Locker, customers took photos with the pope. Bill Millot of Cooney’s said it was fun to participate and the contest helped business.
He said, “I had quite a few people walk through and they were excited to find him. Customers would say, ‘Hey, the pope’s here.’ It brought new customers into the store.”
As people waited for their coffee at Whelan’s Coffee and Ice Cream, customers had their photo taken with the pope, too.
“We really enjoyed the conversations and enthusiasm that the stand-up pope created,” said Laurel Whelan.
Fr. Brundage was supportive of “Where’s the Pope?” He said that the parish was looking for a way to show acts of mercy.
“Pope Francis is so widely known for the mercy shown to others, and so popular around the globe that we thought he would be a great icon of God’s mercy,” he said. “It moved the church, in a sense, into our secular and business communities. It was a very successful effort for the parish during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.”
St. Jerome hosted other events to celebrate the Year of Mercy, including a Family Feud game about Catholicism and a forgiveness quilt.