Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis meets the United States

Last week, Pope Francis enthralled crowds in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., I and many other Franciscan friars concelebrated the uplifting Mass with Pope Francis at my alma mater, The Catholic University of America. The Pope quoted Saint Junipero Serra:  “siempre adelante" or “always forward” in evangelizing people.

Thursday there was the Pope's historic address to the joint session of our U.S. Congress.

The Pope introduced himself as a son of immigrants, who had been blessed by “the new world” and felt a responsibility toward it.

He noted a nation can be considered great when it stands for freedom as Abraham Lincoln did; when it enables people to “dream” of full rights as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for the cause of the poor and oppressed, as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, did; and when it is open to God in dialogue and peace between peoples and religions as Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, was.  The Pope asked, “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.(I was honored to write the foreword to a book about Dorothy Day and others, titled “With Minds of their Own.”)

Pope Francis also reminded the Congress that collaborators such as Catholic educators, health care professionals, churches and charities help build a strong society and are based on conscience and religious freedom.

The smiling Pope reached out to the "forgotten" and blessed hundreds of thousands of people, building enthusiastic interest in "things Catholic" with his "Come Home"message to alienated and disenchanted Catholics.

Thursday and Friday, Pope Francis won the hearts of New Yorkers who lined the streets of Manhattan, seen on most of the major prime time news programs in that largest media market.  At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, during Thursday's evening prayer, Pope Francis announced his appreciation for the work of the clergy, as well as so many religious women, and he proclaimed to all, “I wish to say thank you, and to tell you that I love you very much.”

Friday morning he urged world leaders at  the United Nations General Assembly to take action on the care of our common home, poverty and immigration.   The Pope then joined religious leaders in prayer at the 9/11 Memorial and ended the day with a rousing Mass for thousands at Madison Square Garden,

Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia, Pope Francis cited the Declaration of Independence stating that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.  He emphasized that religious liberty, by its nature, transcends the private sphere, and the Quakers who founded Philadelphia were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love.  “That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit,” he said.

Sunday afternoon, after a ride through downtown streets teeming with cheering onlookers, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with an estimated one million people, marking the conclusion of the weeklong World Meeting of Families.  It was a joy to hear the beautiful orchestra, and the liturgical participants speaking and singing in so many languages: including Latin, of course.

Families from more than 100 countries participated in the World Meeting of Families, and the family is an ongoing emphasis of Pope Francis.  Within our families, we develop our capacity to love: with love extending itself, not closed in.  The Pope gave that homily in Spanish, the first language of so many people in our Church today.

Pope Francis' apostolic journey was not all sunshine and roses.  The Holy Father greeted families at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and inmates at a correctional facility.  He met privately, as time permitted, with individuals facing difficult struggles.  These inclusions bolstered his obviously well-prepared and pastoral homilies, and magnetically drew people of all faiths to behold the Gospel.

Intelligent.  Hope.  Love.  Those descriptions of Pope Francis streamed through social media as his visit unfolded.

He concluded Mass with a blessing for all, and added his familiar, “And I ask you: pray for me.  Don’t forget.”

Holy Father Francis, we will not forget.  I anticipate we will take to heart the themes you underscored in your visit for a long time to come.  Pope Francis: a Jesuit but also a Franciscan in spirit!!!

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