(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has completed the first full day of his Apostolic visit to the United States, in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC. The schedule of the Holy Father’s public engagements for Wednesday included the official welcome ceremony on the south lawn of the White House, a meeting with the Catholic bishops of the United States in St. Matthew’s cathedral, and Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on the campus of the Catholic University of America. Three different occasions, with three very different audiences, and three vastly different central points of focus: how did Pope Francis manage to tie them all together and stay “on message” while doing justice to the particular nature and peculiar scope of each? The short answer to that very complex and multifaceted question is that he remembered his training in Jesuit religious life and drew on the great Catholic tradition of communication, which speaks at once to those inside the Church (ad intra), and those outside the Church’s visible boundaries (ad extra). If, in his address to the bishops, he warned that, “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a Pastor,” he also proved in his own body and with his own tongue – the body and the tongue of the universal Pastor of the Universal Church – and ‘harsh and divisive’ is not synonymous with, ‘frank and fearless’, especially when, at the White House, he reiterated his intention, “[T]o celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization,” and made his own, the US bishops’ clarion call to rally in defense of religious freedom. “[A]ll are called to be vigilant,” he said, “precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it,” for religious freedom, “remains one of America’s most precious possessions.” At the same time, “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination,” and our legitimate concern in this regard cannot keep us from working concretely toward adequate and equitable solutions to real problems that press upon us with increasing urgency – problems like those created by years and decades of failure to care for the created order over which God has set us as stewards. We have said since before this visit began, that Pope Francis’ purpose in coming is to engage and encourage, to listen and to challenge – and yes – in both the etymological and the colloquial sense, to provoke everyone. What we saw on Wednesday in Washington, DC, was a Pastor at work – and the work he was about was the work of exploding the binary thought patterns that dominate our contemporary culture: he captures and commands our careful attention and at the same time he unleashes our pent-up moral imagination; this son of Ignatius shows us that, in order to seek God in all things, we must be prepared to let God reveal Himself to us. The example he held up for us and for the whole Church and all the world, was that of an 18th century Franciscan priest, who was both brilliant scholar and missionary adventurer: Junipero Serra, OFM, who founded the first nine of the great chain of 21 missions in California, from San Diego to San Francisco. “Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work,” recalled Pope Francis in his homily, “a saying by which helived his life: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward!” Pope Francis went on to say, “For [St. Junipero Serra], this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!” This forward progress is toward a definite goal, the achievement of which is assured to the Church, and it is a progress in continuity with the unbroken way that has been cut and forged by God’s holy ones throughout all time and into eternity. “We are indebted to a tradition,” said Pope Francis, “[to] a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both ‘good’ and ‘news’.” Pope Francis has been shaking things up, as they say: so much so, that a leading English-language journal recently wondered with cheeky frankness, “Is the Pope Catholic?” On Wednesday, in Washington, DC, the public thinking, advocacy and witness that Pope Francis conducted bore the mark of Catholicity in both its capital and lower-case acceptions. What to expect on Thursday, when the Holy Father will again make history when he addresses a joint meeting of the US Congress before going on to bless the St. Patrick’s parish soup kitchen and meet with the needy who find refuge and sustenance there? More of the same: yesterday, today, and ever. Do not expect it to get old. (from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) Celebrating his first Mass in the United States on Wednesday, Pope Francis declared a new saint of the United States. Fr. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan priest known for starting nine missions in the 18th century in what is today the US state of California, was raised to the glory of the altars during a solemn open-air Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in the US capital, Washington. Several cardinals and bishops, all in white vestments, joined him at the altar on a state erected specially for the canonization, while many more sat in front of the altar.
The Pope who is in the US, following his visit to Cuba Sept. 19-22, was accorded a state welcome Wednesday morning, at the Whitehouse in Washington by President Barack Obama, after which he met US bishops in St. Matthew’s Cathedral. The canonization rite at the start of the evening Mass included a biography of Fr. Serra and the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. Pope Francis then pronounced the formula of canonization, officially declaring Junipero Serra a saint.
In his homily, Pope Francis held up the figure of America’s new Saint, Junipero Serra, as a model of one who having experienced the joy of God’s merciful anointing, in turn went out to joyfully proclaim the Good News to all people, leaving behind the security and apathy of his comfort and home. Taking his cue from St. Paul who invited Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” Pope Francis, delivering the entire homily in Spanish, said the desire for a fulfilling, meaningful and joyful life is something all have in their hearts. He noted that the struggles of everyday life seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine, he said, can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, making our hearts grow numb. But against this, Jesus offers us the answer. He says, “Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.” “For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy,” the Pope stressed.
The Pope said that Jesus intended his Good News for all, embracing life as he saw it, in faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin, in faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. He said, Jesus embraced life as he found it, whether dirty, unkempt or broken, and urges us to go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father…who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil od salvation.
The Pope explained that mission is never the fruit of a perfect planned program, but is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing. In this regard, Pope Francis recalled the Aparecida Document of the Latin American Bishops, saying “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.” And one such person who witnessed to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, the Pope said, is Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life, and learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. The Pope said mistreatment and wrongs still trouble us today, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.
The Canonization Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was in Latin, Spanish and English, and one of the scripture readings was in a native American language. The prayer of the faithful was is Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog of the Philippines, Igbo of Nigeria, Criollo and American sign language, symbolizing the rich multi-cultural character that the US is known for.
Below is the prepared text of Pope Francis’ homily at the Canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra in Washington:
Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! These are striking words, words which impact our lives. Paul tells us to rejoice; he practically orders us to rejoice. This command resonates with the desire we all have for a fulfilling life, a meaningful life, a joyful life. It is as if Paul could hear what each one of us is thinking in his or her heart and to voice what we are feeling, what we are experiencing. Something deep within us invites us to rejoice and tells us not to settle for placebos which simply keep us comfortable.
At the same time, though, we all know the struggles of everyday life. So much seems to stand in the way of this invitation to rejoice. Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.
We don’t want apathy to guide our lives… or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life… or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?
Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.
The spirit of the world tells us to be like everyone else, to settle for what comes easy. Faced with this human way of thinking, “we must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world” (Laudato Si’, 229). It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is “an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:
A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!
A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!
A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!
Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.
Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.
The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into élites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.
So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). The People of God can embrace everyone because we are the disciples of the One who knelt before his own to wash their feet (ibid., 24).
The reason we are here today is that many other people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that “life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort” (Aparecida Document, 360). We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women who preferred not to be “shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security… within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49). We are indebted to a tradition, a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both “good” and “news”.
Today we remember one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel in these lands, Father Junípero Serra. He was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth”, a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters. Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.
Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, a saying he lived his life by: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis sent greetings to the Jewish community, as they celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is considered the holiest day on the Hebrew calendar. The Holy Father was speaking to the United States Bishops in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC. “I would like to send my greetings to the Hebrew community, to our Jewish brothers, for whom today is a sacred day, Yom Kippur,” Pope Francis said. “I hope the Lord brings down his blessing of peace and will keep in life and holiness, according to the Word of the Lord we have heard today: Be Holy, for I am Holy,” he continued.
The Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based Jewish community, organized a Yom Kippur service at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial, to bring attention to the issue of the environment. The service not only used passages from rabbinical literature, but also quoted Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’ specifically on climate change, according to Rabbi Arthur Waskow “The fact that the pope has spoken out so powerfully and so clearly [on climate change], and the fact that he is going to be speaking at the UN and Congress and meeting with the president, means that the work many of us have been doing for years is on the front page,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who founded The Shalom Center. He told the Huffington Post the Pope’s message on the environment “takes the work we’re doing it and gives it front and center place in people’s consciousness.”
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) The Welcome Ceremony for Pope Francis at the White House on Wednesday morning was attended by some 15,000 people. Amongst them was Vatican Radio’s Seàn-Patrick Lovett who is travelling with the Pope on this 10th Apostolic Visit abroad to Cuba and to the United States.
He sent us this report:
One thing is for certain: the Oval Office in “House of Cards” is bigger than the original.
Aside from that, everything is where it should be: the portrait of Abraham Lincoln over the fireplace, the grandfather clock in the corner, and the Presidential “Resolute Desk” (you can Google it to find out why it’s called that) backing onto the Rose Garden.
And seated in two high-back brown leather chairs, looking very much at ease in each other’s company, were two of the world’s most influential men: the Pope and the President. Their comfortable, fireside demeanour was not just due to the fact they’ve met before (on March 27th last year in the Vatican), but because, if you look at their respective speeches on the White House lawn, it appears they were saying very much the same thing. Each one reinforced the other’s position on the issue of climate change, echoed one another’s call to focus on the needy, and repeated that the liberty to practice one’s religion is the basis of all freedoms. “You shake our conscience from slumber,” said President Obama, “you give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just and more free.”
Earlier, when welcoming the Pope, the President had quipped that his “back garden” (the sprawling South Lawn) isn’t always this full. In fact, over 15,000 people gathered under gloriously sunny skies to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. For many of them, a glimpse was all they got. People I spoke to said they had flown in from all over the country (one said she had come from Colombia), arriving at the White House before 2am in the morning and facing gruelling security checks – all to see the Pope they say is “changing the way people think about the Catholic Church”.
The fact that many of the people present at the welcome ceremony were first generation Americans was clear from the applause that broke out when Pope Francis said: “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families”.
Another highlight of his speech for those present was when he repeated the words of an American icon to express the urgency of healing the planet for our children: “To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honour it,” he said.
The welcome ceremony concluded with a song by the St Augustine’s Gospel Choir and with the Pope being given a brief tour of the White House which concluded – yes, in the Oval Office. It was a private meeting but the handful of journalists allowed in for the photo-opportunity couldn’t resist asking what they would be talking about. “We were talking about how particularly well behaved you are today”, responded the President – and the Pope smiled. Or maybe he was really wondering where the “Resolute Desk” got its name…
With Pope Francis in Washington – I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett
(from Vatican Radio)…
(Vatican Radio) After an official welcome from U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the nation’s bishops, urging them to be shepherds who promote dialogue and foster unity at all levels of the Church and society.
Speaking to the U.S. Church leaders in the Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle, close to the White House, the Pope praised the generosity of the American Church and the support it has given to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of the world. He talked of the “immense efforts” made to welcome and integrate immigrants, as well as the pain and difficulties caused by the sex abuse crisis.
The Pope said he had not come to judge or to lecture the bishops, but rather to support and encourage their work as humble shepherds, shaping a Church that “attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love.” He urged them to promote a culture of encounter, avoiding “harsh and divisive language” but rather encouraging authentic dialogue as they confront the “challenging issues of our time”.
Below please find the prepared text of Pope Francis’ words to the United States Bishops
Meeting with the United States Bishops, Cathedral of Saint Matthew, Washington
Dear Brother Bishops,
I am pleased that we can meet at this point in the apostolic mission which has brought me to your country. I thank Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Kurtz for their kind words in your name. I am very appreciative of your welcome and the generous efforts made to help plan and organize my stay.
As I look out with affection at you, their pastors, I would like to embrace all the local Churches over which you exercise loving responsibility. I would ask you to share my affection and spiritual closeness with the People of God throughout this vast land.
The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”
Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side and supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.
My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. I thank you most heartily for your generous solidarity with the Apostolic See and the support you give to the spread of the Gospel in many suffering areas of our world. I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfill the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey.
I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.
I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.
I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors. From the birth of this nation, when, following the American Revolution, the first diocese was erected in Baltimore, the Church of Rome has always been close to you; you have never lacked its constant assistance and encouragement. In recent decades, three Popes have visited you and left behind a remarkable legacy of teaching. Their words remain timely and have helped to inspire the long-term goals which you have set for the Church in this country.
It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. I have not come to judge you or to lecture you. I trust completely in the voice of the One who “teaches all things” (Jn 14:26). Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers. I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I would share with you some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.
We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).
The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).
Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.
It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”. May the word of God grant meaning and fullness to every aspect of their lives; may the sacraments nourish them with that food which they cannot procure for themselves; may the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that “taste of eternity” which they seek in vain in the things of this world. May they always hear from you a word of appreciation for their efforts to confirm in liberty and justice the prosperity in which this land abounds. At the same time, may you never lack the serene courage to proclaim that “we must work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life” (Jn 6:27).
Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the center, to “decrease”, in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is his alone. Who ascend to the height of the cross of God’s Son, the sole standpoint which opens to the shepherd the heart of his flock.
Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless. In the countless paths which lie open to your pastoral concern, remember to keep focused on the core which unifies everything: “You did it unto me” (Mt 25:31-45).
Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realize that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed (Phil 2:1-11).
We all know the anguish felt by the first Eleven, huddled together, assailed and overwhelmed by the fear of sheep scattered because the shepherd had been struck. But we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity. So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear.
I know that you face many challenges, that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition.
And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.
Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).
The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.
We need to let the Lord’s words echo constantly in our hearts: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, who am meek and humble of heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls” (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus’ yoke is a yoke of love and thus a pledge of refreshment. At times in our work we can be burdened by a sense of loneliness, and so feel the heaviness of the yoke that we forget that we have received it from the Lord. It seems to be ours alone, and so we drag it like weary oxen working a dry field, troubled by the thought that we are laboring in vain. We can forget the profound refreshment which is indissolubly linked to the One who has made us the promise.
We need to learn from Jesus, or better to learn Jesus, meek and humble; to enter into his meekness and his humility by contemplating his way of acting; to lead our Churches and our people – not infrequently burdened by the stress of everyday life – to the ease of the Lord’s yoke. And to remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by “consuming fire from heaven” (Lk 9:54), but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, who “heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked”.
The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.
Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.
May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like “a city built on a hill” (Mt 5:14).
This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion. May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the “sacrament of unity” (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion.
This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves. I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.
The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.
These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the tenor of the times becomes resistent and even hostile to that message (Evangelii Gaudium, 34-39). I urge you to offer this witness, with the means and creativity born of love, and with the humility of truth. It needs to be preached and proclaimed to those without, but also to find room in people’s hearts and in the conscience of society.
To this end, it is important that the Church in the United States also be a humble home, a family fire which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love. As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.
Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).
Before concluding these reflections, allow me to offer two recommendations which are close to my heart. The first refers to your fatherhood as bishops. Be pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants. Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).
My second recommendation has to do with immigrants. I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case. The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these “pilgrims”. From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper, and kept alive the flame of their faith. Even today, no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities. Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses. Not only as the Bishop of Rome, but also as a pastor from the South, I feel the need to thank and encourage you. Perhaps it will not be easy for you to look into their soul; perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them. Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.
May God bless you and Our Lady watch over you!
(from Vatican Radio)…