Faith in ActionMagazine

Behind the scenes

Salvation Army Supports Papal Visit

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 26, 2015, Spanish Heritage Month, Pope Francis drew the attention of an estimated 800,000 people who had convened in Philadelphia to see and hear him speak. As leader of the Catholic Church, he was making a historic visit to the United States to share a message of love, cooperation, and hope.

And behind the scenes, a parallel story quietly unfolded. Commissioner Barry C. Swanson, territorial commander; Lt. Colonels Janet and Stephen Banfield, leaders of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division (PENDEL); and a small entourage walked along South 18th Street. As they entered the Parc Bistro for lunch, their blue and white uniforms caught the eye of a man seated at the sidewalk café. When he shouted, “It’s The Salvation Army!” people erupted into spontaneous smiles and applause. A woman said, “Thank you, for all the good work you do!”

“Today, walking around, I get a wonderful feeling of affirmation that says, ‘Thank you, Salvation Army, for being there!’” said Commissioner Swanson. “The Papal visit coincides with the practical, interfaith work that we always do here in the PENDEL Division and in other communities. If there’s a need, we’ll say, ‘yes!’”

That weekend, The Salvation Army said “yes.” During the course of four days, as many as 100 volunteers supported emergency and security personnel by delivering a total of 93,000 meals, including pre–packaged lunches and hot dinners, courtesy of Wawa Inc., a popular chain of convenience stores and gas stations along the East Coast. Army volunteers traveled throughout FBI–secured areas, serving people at 50 sites.

“The differences between Catholics and Salvationists on theological and ecclesiological questions must not impede the witness of our shared love for God and for our neighbor, a love that is able to inspire energetic efforts in the commitment to restore the dignity of those who live on the margins of society.” — Pope Francis*
Although Swanson recognizes that theological differences exist between the Army and the Catholic Church, he acknowledges that, when it comes to meeting human need, they concur. “What I’m seeing here is the way I think our relationship ought to be,” he said, “where, if the Army had a pressing need, our Catholic brothers and sisters would be right there for us too.”

“The Salvation Army is in the business of assisting first responders,” said Lt. Colonel Stephen Banfield, who, in the aftermath of 9/11, served as incident commander. “Today in Philadelphia, we have 9,000 responders. Our support of them allows the city to see that The Salvation Army is more than a seasonal, Christmastime organization, but rather we are behind the scenes, 24/7, year round. The unsung heroes are the volunteers working at the feeding hubs, driving forklifts, and serving food and water. So, this is a great opportunity and we are honored to support it in this way.”

Lt. Colonel Janet Banfield, who could recite each step taken since the initiation of the Army’s involvement in the Papal visit, said, “No matter what The Salvation Army does, the keys to success are always the recognition of opportunity, early organization, flexibility, ease of deployment, and all done in a spirit of ministry.”

Michael A. Orfitelli, Disaster Services coordinator, thanked Bobby Myers, the PENDEL Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) director, for giving volunteers from throughout the territory an opportunity to be involved. “The operation was extremely successful, and provided a terrific learning experience for those people who served,” said Orfitelli.

immigrants and families

“This is breathtaking, that The Salvation Army can participate in the World Meeting of Families,” said Rev. Bonnie Camarda. “This is historic for us!”  Camarda, who is the PENDEL division’s director of partnerships, continued, “This city is very Catholic. As a Cuban, I find it fascinating that there are a lot of Latin Americans and 50,000 Mexicans in Philadelphia. The Salvation Army is doing God’s work.”

David Burgmayer, director of service extension for the PENDEL Division, said of the PENDEL Brass and Singers, “We are moms and dads, sons and daughters.”

The group performed on a grandstand across the street from the Basilica where Pope Francis spoke. Later that evening, he attended a star–studded “Festival of Families” celebration, which was part of the first “World Meeting of Families” held in North America.

The theme emphasized the importance of ministering to families across ethnic, linguistic, national, and cultural boundaries.

by Warren L. Maye

*A statement made last year by Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican with General André Cox. It was the first private meeting held between a Pope and a General of The Salvation Army (see Reflections—The Pope and The Salvation Army).

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