STEUBENVILLE -The staff at Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts are hoping Pope Francis personally sees a special 4-foot tall birthday card containing 22,000 signatures and prayers sent to the pontiff last week.
The oversized card is the latest creative idea of Mark Nelson and Catholic to the Max.
"It was actually my kids' idea to send a special birthday card to Pope Francis. We were preparing to attend a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis and one of my kids asked why not send something to the pope that he would actually read. I know he will receive a countless number of birthday wishes today, so we prepared the 4-foot tri-fold card which features a depiction of Pope Francis' beloved, 'Mary Undoer of Knots' and a number of 4-foot tall sheets of paper containing signatures and different prayers," Nelson explained.
SPECIAL CARD — Mark Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts, prepared a birthday card containing 22,000 signatures and prayers for delivery to the Vatican. Pope Francis is observing his 77th birthday today. -- Dave Gossett
"We are telling the pope the youth of America are praying for him on his birthday as well as every day. We gathered more than 10,000 signatures at the youth conference and since we have returned we saw another 10,000 people sign the card online. And we picked up about 2,000 signatures at Franciscan University of Steubenville," continued Nelson.
"We hope he will see the card and it will introduce him to Steubenville. We wanted to give Pope Francis a gift he will truly appreciate and something he will be proud of. From day one of his papacy he asked all of us to pray for him and to serve the poor. This is our response to his request," Nelson stated.
The card includes a letter from Nelson, "to please accept this package in thanksgiving to God and celebration of your 77th birthday."
Nelson also named several area Catholic parishes where members signed the card, including the members and children of Holy Family, St. Peter's, Triumph of the Cross, Blessed Sacrament and Weirton's St. Paul parish.
"From your first public address on the night of your papal election, you have continually asked for our prayers and service. We wanted to honor your wishes and give a truly fitting birthday gift to you. The people who have signed this card are praying for you, serving the poor on your behalf and evangelizing the world," Nelson wrote.
"We thank the Lord for your life and your service and offer you our prayers, service and love. Happy birthday," concluded Nelson.
And if Pope Francis reads the card and decides to call Nelson Fine Arts and Gifts store, Nelson said his staff is ready.
"We have several talking points ready in case someone from the Vatican calls the store. And if the pope himself calls, we will consider ourselves very blessed," stated Nelson.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)