Green Bay mayor invites Pope Francis to city

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 5, 2014

GREEN BAY — If the National Football League’s smallest city can be home to the four-time Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, why can’t it host a visit from Pope Francis?

That’s the thinking of Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, who sent a letter to Pope Francis last week inviting him to Green Bay in 2015.

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt has invited Pope Francis to visit Green Bay in 2015. His office also created a website and online petition for people to sign. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt has invited Pope Francis to visit Green Bay in 2015. Using a HostGator Black Friday Deal 2016, his office also created a website and online petition for people to sign. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“It comes back to why not Green Bay?” Schmitt told The Compass in a telephone interview Feb. 28, two days after emailing the letter to the Vatican. “It just seems that there’s a whole lot of synergy with what the pope speaks and what the greater community of Green Bay believes. We’ll start the effort now. It’s 18 months away.”

In his letter to Pope Francis (http://greenbaywi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Pope-Francis-Letter.pdf), Schmitt said that Green Bay is a worthy destination, particularly because northeast Wisconsin is home to the only approved Marian apparition site in the U.S., the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. Located about 15 miles north of Green Bay, the Marian apparitions in Champion took place in 1859. Bishop David Ricken declared the apparitions worthy of belief in 2010.

“During your visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families in 2015, I invite you to extend your visit to the greater Green Bay community and make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help,” wrote Schmitt.

While there has been speculation about Pope Francis attending the meeting in Philadelphia, there has been no official confirmation from the pope.

Schmitt told The Compass that he was told about the pope’s visit through the mayor’s office in Philadelphia. “With that, I started talking to a lot of people about the possibility of (Pope Francis) visiting Green Bay.”

He said he also met with the Green Bay Packers Stadium Board. “They said that sounds like a great idea. There’s actually funding available,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt said he spoke at several Catholic functions, including meetings with the local chapter of Legatus and Notre Dame Academy’s Triton Fest. “Their response was ‘why not Green Bay,’” he said.

“The pope has such a devotion to our mother Mary. We have the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help and from a security standpoint, we’ve had presidents here,” added Schmitt.

While Schmitt calls it a grassroots campaign to bring Pope Francis to Green Bay, he explained that he is reaching out to Bishop Ricken and the Diocese of Green Bay. “Part of this will be a strong working relationship with the diocese.”

While the odds may be against Green Bay hosting a papal visit, it isn’t unprecedented to have a pope visit the state. Two years before his election in 1978, Blessed Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Stevens Point.

“I just hope he gives this thing some consideration,” said Schmitt. “We are going to get more people and organizations involved. We’ll start the effort now. It’s 18 months away. This would be awesome if it happens, but (if it doesn’t) just the joy it brings people, the thought of hosting the Holy Father. It’s just great.”

Schmitt, a member of St. Francis Cathedral Parish in Green Bay, said he has run the idea past his brother, Fr. Carl Schmitt, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, Sturgeon Bay, and St. Mary Parish, Maplewood, and he is supportive of the plan.

Asked his impressions of Pope Francis, Schmitt gave a politician’s response.

“If he stood for election he would easily be reelected,” he said.

“You just love to see youth be engaged with any leader — and the diversity he’s embracing,” added Schmitt. “The basic values of humanity that he speaks of, those are all things that build community and that’s what we are working on here. … What a great piece of the world we are here in northeast Wisconsin and only good can come out of this.”

On Monday, Schmitt’s office unveiled a website, Pope to Green Bay, inviting people to support the plan by signing an online petition. To view or sign it, go to www.popetogreenbay.com.

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