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Day: September 24, 2015

Pope at Vespers: a special thank you to the religious women of the US

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ first engagement on arriving in New York from Washington DC on Thursday evening was to preside over Vespers with priests and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 
Before pronouncing the homily, the Pope expressed his closeness to the Muslim world struck by the tragedy at a Mecca pilgrimage that has killed over 700 people and injured many more. During the homily he told those present that gratitude and hard work are the two pillars of their spiritual life and warned them against surrounding themselves with worldly comforts. Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni :

Remarking on the beauty of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and of how it  was built up over the years through the sacrifices of many men and women, Pope Francis said it can serve as a symbol of the work of generations of American priests,  religious and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States. Highlighting their fundamental role in building American society, the Pope thanked the many priests and religious who have played a central role in educating and nourishing  the children of the nation. He cited the founder of the first free Catholic School for girls in America, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint John Neumann, the founder of the first US system of Catholic education, pointing out that many paid the the cost of extraordinary sacrifice and did so with heroic charity. With a direct reference to the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Church in the US, Pope Francis acknowledged  the suffering of his brothers and sisters for having had to “bear the shame of those who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members…” and offered prayers and words of closeness in this time of pain and difficulty. Urging them to find joy and satisfaction in their vocation, the Pope called on priests and religious  to work hard and live a life of self-sacrifice which he said “becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love”. In a special way, he expressed his esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States.  “What would the Church be without you?  Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel.  To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people – he said – I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you…  and to tell you that I love you very much”. Please find below an English translation of the Pope’s homily at Vespers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York:                 “There is a cause for rejoicing here”, although “you may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials” (1 Pet 1:6).  These words of the Apostle remind us of something essential.  Our vocation is to be lived in joy.                  This beautiful Cathedral of Saint Patrick, built up over many years through the sacrifices of many men and women, can serve as a symbol of the work of generations of American priests and religious, and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States.  In the field of education alone, how many priests and religious in this country played a central role, assisting parents in handing on to their children the food that nourishes them for life!  Many did so at the cost of extraordinary sacrifice and with heroic charity.  I think for example of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first free Catholic school for girls in America, or Saint John Neumann, the founder of the first system of Catholic education in the United States.  This evening, my brothers and sisters, I have come to join you in prayer that our vocations will continue to build up the great edifice of God’s Kingdom in this country.  I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members…  In the words of the Book of Revelation, I know well that you “have come forth from the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14).  I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people.  In the hope of helping you to persevere on the path of fidelity to Jesus Christ, I would like to offer two brief reflections. The first concerns the spirit of gratitude.  The joy of men and women who love God attracts others to him; priests and religious are called to find and radiate lasting satisfaction in their vocation.  Joy springs from a grateful heart.  Truly, we have received much, so many graces, so many blessings, and we rejoice in this.  It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance.  Remembrance of when we were first called, remembrance of the road travelled, remembrance of graces received… and, above all, remembrance of our encounter with Jesus Christ so often along the way.  Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts.  To seek the grace of remembrance so as to grow in the spirit of gratitude.  Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: are we good at counting our blessings? A second area is the spirit of hard work.  A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work.  Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love. Yet, if we are honest, we know how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened.  There are a couple of ways that this can happen; both are examples of that “spiritual worldliness” which weakens our commitment to serve and diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ. We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world.  Not that these things are unimportant!  We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us.  But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes.  To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility.  The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.  Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors.  And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross Another danger comes when we become jealous of our free time, when we think that surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts will help us serve better.  The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with him.  Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, renunciation and hard work.  It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves.  Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, but we need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity.  Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous. Gratitude and hard work: these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted to share with you this evening.  I thank you for prayers and work, and the daily sacrifices you make in the various areas of your apostolate.  Many of these are known only to God, but they bear rich fruit for the life of the Church.  In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States.  What would the Church be without you?  Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel.  To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you…  and to tell you that I love you very much. I know that many of you are in the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape.  Whatever difficulties and trials you face, I ask you, like Saint Peter, to be at peace and to respond to them as Christ did: he thanked the Father, took up his cross and looked forward!  Dear brothers and sisters, in a few moments we will sing the Magnificat.  Let us commend to Our Lady the work we have been entrusted to do; let us join her in thanking God for the great things he has done, and for the great things he will continue to do in us and in those whom we have the privilege to serve. (from Vatican Radio)…

Pope expresses closeness to Muslims for hajj tragedy

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis  has expressed feelings of closeness to his Muslim brothers and sisters. The Pope’s words came  before the homily during the celebration of Vespers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Turning his attention to the stampede that on Thursday killed more than 700 pilgrims and injured at least 863 during the annual hajj pilgrimage on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia as Muslims around the world marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday. He said he would have wished that his greeting to his Muslim brothers and sisters as they celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice could have been warmer, but in solemn tones he e xpressed his closeness to all Muslims “in the face of the tragedy” suffered in the Mecca, and assured them of  his prayers and closeness. (from Vatican Radio)…

Pope Francis travels to New York

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has wrapped up the first leg of his Apostolic Visit to the United States.
Aboard an American Airlines Flight from Washington on Thursday afternoon, the Pope travelled to New York City where he is scheduled to celebrate Vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, address the United Nations General Assembly, pray at the Ground Zero Memorial, pay a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden. 
He will leave New York on Saturday morning and journey to Philadelphia where, amongst other events, he will visit Independence Mall and meet with the Hispanic Community and participate in the World Meeting of Families where he will celebrate the closing Mass on Sunday.
Waiting to greet him on Thursday evening at the J.F Kennedy Airport in New York are Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York; Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the Holy See Permanent Observer to the UN; Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio, Bishop of Brooklyn, as well as the Governor and the Mayor of New York City.
A helicopter will immediately transfer Pope Francis to Downtown Manhattan where he is due to celebrate Vespers with the clergy and men and women religious in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a landmark of Downtown Manhattan.
Every year, more than five million people of every different nationality and faith enter St Patrick’s Cathedral. As Cardinal Dolan points out on his Cathedral’s webpage: “To many, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a spiritual haven. Parishioners, community members and travelers from around the globe find their way to this sacred home, which may truly be called the center of Catholic life in the United States. To countless others, St. Patrick’s is an iconic New York City and national landmark”. 
The Cathedral website also tells us that it “mirrors the story of the city itself. Created to affirm the ascendance of religious freedom and tolerance, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in the democratic spirit, paid for not only by the contributions of thousands of poor immigrants but also by the largesse of 103 prominent citizens who pledged $1,000 each. St. Patrick’s Cathedral proves the maxim that no generation builds a cathedral. It is rather, a kind of ongoing conversation linking generations past, present and future”. 
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope prays with homeless people in Washington D.C.

In a meeting with homeless men and women in Washington D.C., Pope Francis said that faith can help us all to face unjust and painful situations. His words came during a visit to the parish of St Patrick in the City, the oldest Catholic parish in Washington, founded in 1794 to provide pastoral support for Irish labourers working on the construction of the White House and Congress buildings.

In his words to the street people, Pope Francis said they reminded him of St Joseph, the figure to whom the Pope said he turns whenever he is “in a fix”. Joseph faced some difficult situations, he said, especially when he found himself homeless with Mary about to give birth to her son, Jesus. The Bible notes clearly there was no room for them in the inn, the Pope said, so the Son of God came into this world as a homeless person.

Like St Joseph, the Pope told his listeners, many of you may ask yourself daily “Why are we homeless, without a place to live?” and it’s a question which all of us might well ask: “Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? 

We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, the Pope said, for lack of housing but we know that God never abandons us in our suffering. Faith also makes us know that God is knocking on our door and calling us “to love, to compassion, to service of one another”. Pope Francis concluded the encounter by praying together with the homeless people, saying through prayer we learn to see one another as brothers and sisters.

Below please find the prepared text of Pope Francis’ words to the homeless in Washington D.C.

Meeting with the Homeless at Saint Patrick in the City, Washington

Dear Friends,

            The first word I wish to say to you is “Thank you”.  Thank you for welcoming me and for your efforts to make this meeting possible. 

            Here I think of a person whom I love, someone who is, and has been, very important throughout my life.  He has been a support and an inspiration.  He is the one I go to whenever I am “in a fix”.  You make me think of Saint Joseph.  Your faces remind me of his.

            Joseph had to face some difficult situations in his life.  One of them was the time when Mary was about to give birth, to have Jesus.  The Bible tells us that, “while they were [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6-7). 

            The Bible is very clear about this: there was no room for them.  I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay.  The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person.  The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head.  We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking.  How is it that the Son of God has no home?  Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing?  These are questions which many of you may ask daily.  Like Saint Joseph, you may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live?  These are questions which all of us might well ask.  Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live?  Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless?

            Joseph’s questions are timely even today; they accompany all those who throughout history have been, and are, homeless.

            Joseph was someone who asked questions.  But first and foremost, he was a man of faith.  Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark.  Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life.  Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.

            In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness.  As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.  God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.

            We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.  There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side.  He does not abandon us.

            We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person.  He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help, his love.  He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice.  He tells us this clearly: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).

            Faith makes us know that God is at our side, that God is in our midst and his presence spurs us to charity.  Charity is born of the call of a God who continues to knock on our door, the door of all people, to invite us to love, to compassion, to service of one another.

            Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives.  He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks.  Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbors, in the faces of those at our side.

            Dear friends, one of the most effective ways we have to help is that of prayer.  Prayer unites us; it makes us brothers and sisters.  It opens our hearts and reminds us of a beautiful truth which we sometimes forget.  In prayer, we all learn to say “Father”, “Dad”.  We learn to see one another as brothers and sisters.  In prayer, there are no rich and poor people, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.  In prayer, there is no first or second class, there is brotherhood.

            It is in prayer that our hearts find the strength not to be cold and insensitive in the face of injustice.  In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity.

            How good it is for us to pray together.  How good it is to encounter one another in this place where we see one another as brothers and sisters, where we realize that we need one another.  Today I want to be one with you.  I need your support, your closeness.  I would like to invite you to pray together, for one another, with one another.  That way we can keep helping one another to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus is in our midst.  Are you ready? 

            Our Father, who art in heaven…

            Before leaving you, I would like to give you God’s blessing:

            The Lord bless you and keep you;

            the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to                    you;

            the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace                 (Num 6:24-26).

And, please, don’t forget to pray for me.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope gives impromptu greeting to crowds in Washington Mall

(Vatican Radio) In improvised remarks made from the balcony of the American Congress to huge crowds gathered in the National Mall in Washington, Pope Francis asked God to bless all the people of America, especially the children and their families. Speaking in his native Spanish, he asked the crowds to pray for him too, adding that “if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way”. The Pope’s impromptu greeting came after his address inside Congress to a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Before taking his leave of the cheering crowds lining the Mall, the Pope said in English “Thank you very much – and God bless America!” (from Vatican Radio)…