Just in time for papal visit, Pope Francis House completed

Bishop Ricken blesses Habitat for Humanity house, presents family with cross blessed by pope

GREEN BAY — What would Elizabeth Gomez and Alberto Castro say to Pope Francis if they had the opportunity?

“Dear Pope Francis, we are very grateful and thankful to God to receive a home that has been built in your honor. We want you to know that we always keep you in our prayers.”

Bishop David Ricken presents a San Damiano cross to Alberto Castro and Elizabeth Gomez during the dedication of their home, which they helped build through Habitat for Humanity of Green Bay. The house was built in honor of Pope Francis. Bishop Ricken explained that diocesan seminarians in Rome had the cross blessed by Pope Francis. Gomez was moved to tears by the gesture. As part of the dedication, Bishop Ricken blessed each room in the Castro-Gomez home with holy water. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

It was a picture-perfect Sunday morning Sept. 13 as Bishop David Ricken offered God’s blessings upon the Castro-Gomez family and their brand new home on Green Bay’s east side.

Officially, this is Home #86 built by the Greater Green Bay Habitat for Humanity.

But there is far more to the story.

Last May, the ground was broken on the 1,094-square-foot three-bedroom house, which will always be known as the “Pope Francis House.”

An unexpected contact last year started the wheels in motion on the Pope Francis House. An anonymous donor had selected Green Bay as one of the many Habitat for Humanity communities where over the past couple of years a donation of $60,000 toward a Habitat home has been made in honor of Pope Francis.

Green Bay Habitat for Humanity homes generally cost $100,000 to build.

It is obvious that Habitat for Humanity’s mission statement struck a chord with the person who has chosen to make these nationwide donations, said Cora Haltaufderheid, executive director of the Green Bay Area Habitat for Humanity. She noted that about 10 Habitat homes will be built around the country in honor of Pope Francis in 2015.

“Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.” That is the simple mission statement for the Christian-based organization, which was founded in Georgia in 1976.

The timing of the dedication of this home, just before Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States on Tuesday, Sept. 22, was very meaningful.

Bishop Ricken spoke to how special this Pope Francis House is at the dedication. He asked that this Pope Francis Habitat for Humanity House be a place where the Castro-Gomez family can share in their joys as well as be comforted in their sorrows. And above all, let it be a “place of great love,” he said.

A very special presentation was then made by Bishop Ricken.

The family was presented with a San Damiano Cross which Bishop Ricken noted he had seminarians of the Green Bay Diocese purchase in Rome for the family. The seminarians then had it blessed by Pope Francis for the Castro-Gomez family.

It was St. Francis of Assisi who introduced the world to the San Damiano Cross. The original San Damiano cross hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy.

Haltaufderheid emphasized they really don’t know who the Pope Francis House donor is and that the parameters of the $60,000 grant fit well into the Habitat for Humanity mission statement. The donor asked that the build be an ecumenical project, something Habitat is very successful at as it seeks to build communities, Haltaufderheid explained in an interview prior to the dedication.

The announcement that the Castro-Gomez family would become homeowners of the Pope Francis Habitat for Humanity House was announced at a press conference at the Diocese of Green Bay on March 20.

Families and individuals who qualify are taken in order as they are approved and it just so happened that the family was Catholic, which made the Pope Francis House even more special.

Alberto Castro works at American Foods Group and Elizabeth Gomez works part-time at St. Willebrord Parish. Their 5-year-old son, Oliver, attends St. Philip School.

They move to their new the Pope Francis House after having lived in the basement of a house they shared with eight other family members.

The biggest challenge for many homeowners is coming up with a down payment. For those who qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home, instead of a down payment, Haltaufderheid explained those selected are asked to work on a build prior to their home’s groundbreaking and then put hours into the construction of their own home. All of this generally adds up to about 500 hours of volunteer time.

Homeowners receive a no-interest 30-year mortgage directly from Habitat for Humanity. They also have follow-up support as they venture into homeownership, said Michelle Heeler, family services director with Habitat for Humanity.

The dedication day which included dignitaries like Mayor Jim Schmitt and area legislators, volunteers who helped build the home, and family and friends, will be an event the Castro-Gomez family will never forget.

What else would they say to Pope Francis if they could meet him?

“We ask of you to keep our family in your prayers and all who helped work on our house build,” said Elizabeth. “We ask God to keep blessing your path and all the work you are doing and guiding our faith.”