Of the many member benefits we cite at the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB), connectivity may be the most valuable.
We were reminded of this advantage for ourselves, with a recent, high-profile project.
In the event's planning stages, we incorporated feedback from several faith leaders across the county, in an effort to imbue it with a spiritual gravitas apropos of the visit from Pope Francis. At their suggestion, we overlaid Family Day with a food drive, supporting local nutritional outreaches and food cupboards throughout Montgomery County.
The committee then struggled with an issue. They collectively sought to bestow Pope Francis with a thank-you gift, commemorating his time at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. Various items were discussed — mementos done in crystal, those evoking Valley Forge — but the faith leaders wanted something that would resonate with a pope who has dedicated his ministry to a life of simplicity and serving the poor.
An idea blossomed: Make the food drive a permanent initiative, providing assistance to the hungry in the county year after year.
The notion caught fire, especially in light of the late-summer, early-fall timeframe in which the gift would be given. Several of our clerical consultants described a lack of staples during the period between Labor Day and the onset of Thanksgiving-related food drives.
The "gift" from the county, then, would be an altruistic one, a pledge of continual care for those for whom the ache of hunger is steady and real.
A draft of the content was written, circulated, revised and finally approved.
The last step was to transform a simple Word document into a gift worthy of Pope Francis.
What we needed was someone to handle the hand-lettering and decorative elements. And that's where our membership kicked in.
In searching for an artist up to the task, contact was
originally made to Creative Montco, a VFTCB partner with close access to the
county's inventive community. Representatives were fully supportive of the
project but did not have the calligraphy skills readily in its wheelhouse.
Their suggestion was to try the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center.
Schwenkfelder preserves the Pennsylvania Dutch culture that is so fundamental to our area, which led Creative Montco to suggest that the expertise we sought would lie there. The Center, a VFTCB member in Pennsburg, specializes in manuscripts done in fractur, a decorative Germanic typeface.
The Schwenkfelders, too, were excited to be consulted, but suggested that a better resource was the Mennonite Heritage Center - another in the VFTCB family.
With this final link, we hit paydirt. A former instructor at the Mennonite Center, Rosemary Buczek, was just what we were looking for.
"I learned how to do this kind of illustration from a Dominican sister who introduced me to the artwork of the illustrated manuscript. And that's where it took off," she says.
As fate would have it, Buczek has experience in creating documents for the pope. When Pope Benedict visited Yankee Stadium in 2008, she was tapped to hand-letter a prayer that was then framed and given to him.
An estimated 24 hours - over the course of three days - went into creating the piece. "I begin with the designs and concepts, and then I start laying it out in my head on how it will look on paper: the font, the art, the colors," Buczek says.
"So really, I ‘see' the finished document, find a starting point and then just go for it."
The papal parchment will be unveiled as part of the Family Day programming. From there, Josh Shapiro, Chair, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, will hand-deliver it to Pope Francis at a meeting at the seminary.
If you need one more reason to come out and enjoy Valley Forge Family Day, the chance to see this gift - part inspiring text, part beautiful artwork - is yet one more draw.
If you can't wait to see it, here's a look at the finished product that will be on display this Friday:
On behalf of the citizens of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board wishes to thank you deeply for your visit to the United States and specifically our neighborhood of Wynnewood, location of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. It was our extreme pleasure to host you.
We present this document in recognition of your time here and its ongoing impact. It is with deep appreciation that we honor your ongoing words of charity, compassion, inclusion and hope, specifically as they apply to families across all faith traditions. Your message will resonate in our hearts for years to come.
In conjunction with your historic visit, we invited houses of worship across our vast county to participate in a September food drive, collecting non-perishable items to donate to our network of food pantries.
As our farewell gift to you, Your Holiness, we offer our commitment to establish this drive as an annual event throughout Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
In your name and the name of your patron, Saint Francis of Assisi, we pledge our ongoing care of the poor and needy. Your generous spirit has touched us, and in response, we commit to carrying it forward, long after your return to Rome.
Thank you again for bringing your vision, your inspiration, your warmth and your love to our nation and our neighborhood. We look forward with hopeful hearts to the prospect of perhaps welcoming you again.