Tom Hanks snapped that viral ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ photo at Pittsburgh’s Saint Mary of the Mount

“It’s a really challenging message but also a really simple one.”

A sign outside the rectory of Saint Mary of the Mount Parish in Mount Washington is pictured a day after actor Tom Hanks shared a photo of the sign in social media posts that then went viral.

A sign outside the rectory of Saint Mary of the Mount Parish in Mount Washington is pictured a day after actor Tom Hanks shared a photo of the sign in social media posts that then went viral.

COURTESY HOLLY MOHR
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Tom Hanks likes us.

He really likes us.

The actor who’s in town filming the Mr. Rogers movie “You Are My Friend” shouted his praise of Pittsburgh from the social media mountaintop — and literal mountaintop — Monday, using his very popular Facebook and Twitter accounts to prosthelytize Pittsburgh-style.

“The Spirit of Pittsburgh! Great town,” the actor wrote above a photo of a building fronted by a large lawn sign reading, “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR NO EXCEPTIONS.”

The building pictured belongs to Saint Mary of the Mount Parish on Mount Washington.

Holly Mohr, its director of religious education, said the 3 foot-by-8-foot vinyl banner was erected outside the church’s rectory on Sept. 11. Its inspiration came months earlier on the heels of a high-profile police shooting in East Pittsburgh, the family separation scandal at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the upholding of President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

“The idea came up at a Young Adult Ministry Corps team meeting in June. It was right after the shooting of Antwon Rose and also in midst of the immigration crisis and children being separated at the border, and so it was really meant to be an accounting of kind of ‘What are we doing as a predominantly white parish in the midst of all of this?’ and ‘Can we stand in solidarity in any kind of real way and with a sense of repentance?’ and ‘How are we too comfortable and contributing to a climate where things like this can happen?’”

Prior to that, Mohr had seen a similar sign outside a church in Point Breeze, near where she lives. She recalls wondering, “Why can’t the Catholic church get that?”

Then her Catholic church did — and then Tom Hanks noticed. Needless to say, the latter part was unexpected.

“I think we’re a little surprised it did what it was meant to do,” Mohr said of the sign, adding, “and that it was moving enough to someone that they took a picture, and that someone was Tom Hanks, and then it spread and is challenging and inspiring to people. That was the intention of it …”

It moved Hanks’ followers as well. As of Tuesday afternoon, his Facebook post had 6,600 reactions, 198 comments, and 553 shares, and the tweet had amassed 437 comments, 5,100 retweets, and 41,000 likes.

Mohr said everyone at the church was excited by Hanks’ spotlight, even if the church’s involvement wasn’t immediately apparent to all.

But church staffers and members were disappointed to learn that Hanks had been right outside, and they hadn’t realized it.

“We didn’t know he was out there. Everybody was really disappointed about that. Everyone was in the rectory and no one saw him out there,” she said, adding that there were no signs of filming nearby for Hanks’ latest movie.

And while not everyone online appreciated the sign’s message, Mohr said that’s okay.

“There was a mixed reaction, a lot of people seemed heartened and a lot of people seemed kind of jarred by it and saying things like ‘No, I’m not going to love my neighbor.’ It’s a really challenging message but also a really simple one. Anger and defensiveness are not the desired effect, but if it starts a conversation …”