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A Philly Finale
By Chris Sparks (Sep 27, 2015)
During the papal visit, we'll be sharing commentary, photos, and on-the-scene accounts of Pope Francis' first trip to the United States. Stay tuned!
Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015
The next World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin, Ireland. It's an interesting choice, especially in light of the recent history of the Archdiocese of Philadalphia. Like Philadelphia, the whole nation of Ireland was a bastion of Catholicism whose history includes having endured a significant amount of anti-Catholic persecution. Like Philadelphia, the Church in Ireland was recently ravaged by a whole series of abuse scandals, for which it is still paying the price.
Both American society and Irish society has been significantly secularized in the last couple decades, and both recently legalized same-sex marriage (the U.S. by a Supreme Court decision; Ireland by referendum).
Perhaps, then, the hope is that the visit of the Holy Father that has often accompanied the World Meeting of Families may go some way toward repairing the damage done to the life of the Church by the sins of some of its members, and to restate the perennial Church teaching on marriage and the family through the World Meeting of Families.
He's in the air. That's all for tonight, folks!
He's aboard, the plane is taxiing, and soon he will be in the air. Farewell, Francis! He has asked for our prayers at every stop. Let us remember to always intercede for the Holy Father, and so that he may serve Jesus wisely and well.
Some final reflections to come, as well as some words from people in the crowds.
The airplane awaits the Holy Father on the tarmac at Atlantic Aviation in Philadelphia. It's been an immensely full visit, one which perhaps only the Holy Spirit knows to its full height and depth. After all, the Holy Father's words have reached millions of people, perhaps billions, due to a fairly unprecedented level of media coverage and interest, taken to new heights when, the day after achieving the first papal address to Congress, House Speaker John Boehner announced he intended to resign. Speaker Boehner explicitly attributed this decision to the Pope's visit.
That's just the most obvious, most immediate example of a life changed by the Holy Father coming to America. What else has happened in the quiet of human hearts both in the three cities the Holy Father visited and in hearts across the country? What else has changed as a result of his teaching and preaching, his words and actions, his ministry of presence?
In these next days and weeks, take time to watch the videos of the visit. Read his words. Pray over them. Meditate on them. He has a coherent message to the U.S., a real working framework for the future of the Church here in these United States, and a real framework for the role of the U.S. in the world.
Peter has spoken. Will we listen? Will we allow ourselves to be changed, to be confirmed in the faith by the Rock?
Well, the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy made it into the main area for the Mass.
As for me, I made it to the last Jumbotron.
The crowds were dense along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and thoroughly Catholic in every sense of the word. Everyone was there, it felt like: all races, all ages, disabled and fit, everyone. Many parents were there with small children, a rather tremendous sacrifice and act of trust on their part, I thought. I saw people pass by being pushed in wheelchairs. People had canes, casts, the whole spectrum, and yet there they were for the papal Mass.
The mood was mixed. Around us, Philadelphia continued on, to some extent. Quieter, and certainly with less traffic, but on it went. In the meantime, there in a modern American city, home of so much U.S. history, people stood on every flat surface and prayed the Our Father out loud. They exchanged the Sign of Peace. They worshiped together, literally standing in the public squares, the intersections, the sidewalks, and the parks of Philadelphia.
For at least today, the public square was as far from naked of religion as it's possible to get. And nobody seemed to mind.
The Holy Father's homily can by summed up in one sentence: "There's a wideness to God's mercy." Again, betraying the extent of the time and care that went into crafting the Holy Father's message for this papal visit and World Meeting of Families, the Holy Father's speeches throughout the visit appear to have been written keeping today's readings in mind.
The First Reading (Nm 11:25-29) focuses on Moses, the Lawgiver, who in this reading is shown exclaiming that he wished every person in Israel was a prophet. Moses had made a rather prominent appearance in the papal address to Congress, as well, as a model legislator. Psalm 26 appears, praising the precepts of the Lord, and the Second Reading warns the rich of what's coming to them if they have made an idol out of wealth and defrauded others in order to get it (Jas 5:1-6). And the Gospel (Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) is the story of a man outside the circle of the disciples working miracles in Jesus' name. When John asks Jesus to make the man stop, Jesus says, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us."
And then we get the condemnation of those who cause the little ones to stumble and fall.
The Holy Father appeals to the width of the mercy of God, asking that all of us refuse to be scandalized by the Gospel. Instead, we are to have that same width of mercy, by the grace of God.
Other commentators are calling it a papal message to the upcoming ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, occurring Oct. 4-25, 2015, and long the subject of discussion and debate. It will be very interesting to see the upcoming conversations, and eventually to read the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation, drawing upon the reflections of the synod and making specific decisions and calls for action.
Please pray for the synod, appealing especially for the intercession of the saints whose feasts will take place during the synod, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. John Paul II. Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, will be canonized on Oct. 18; ask for their intercession as well.
It's interesting to be at the papal visit and the World Meeting of Families as credentialed press. Here are many of the people whose coverage of the Holy Father, the Vatican, or Catholicism I've read: John Thavis; Austen Ivereigh; and others. Here are an array of journalists representing major media organizations and minor media, as well, local stations and smaller websites. Here are media personnel coming and going, people from all over the world, people speaking in Italian, French, English, and, of course, Spanish. The Hispanic media seems particularly well-represented throughout this week.
Right now, there's a press conference going on with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the papal spokesman and several bishops, talking through the events of the day and the rest of the visit.
This afternoon, the Holy Father will be present for the unveiling of a statue of his predecessor, St. John XXIII. This is an initiative of the local Jewish community in Philadelphia. The statue unveiling will mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions). Pope Francis' good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be present.
The Holy Father is blessing the rosaries they distributed, and now he has the mic.
"The chair is beautiful. Thank you very much for all the work."
There was a presentation of some sort of gift—I'm not sure if it was to the Holy Father from the prisoners or vice-versa—and then the Holy Father is making his exit, shaking hands with the guards and others on the way.
The Holy Father is emphasizing that Jesus washes our feet and makes us clean. It's a message of healing mercy, of reconciliation with God and neighbor, of hope for restored relationships and an end to the pain caused by our faults.
He's calling on prison systems to rehabilitate, to make possible "new paths." "All of us have something we need to be cleansed of and purified from, all of us." He asks that this fact make all of us be open to others and care for them. It's another time the Golden Rule emerges as a key theme of the teaching offered on this papal visit. Jesus comes to save us from the lie that says that no one can change.
He's offering the Franciscan blessing again, the blessing St. Francis of Assisi offered to his brothers.
He's walked right over to the seated rows of prisoners and is going up the rows, shaking handfs and speaking briefly with the prisoners, translator at his side. It looks like he may be intent on going and greeting each and every individual prisoner. Yes, he's continuing to go to each row. There's a Franciscan with a rather large, greying beard walking along behind — perhaps the prison chaplain? It looks like an aide is giving each prisoner a rosary, as well.
It looks like he's also greeting family of the prisoners.
And another set of prisoners. One man stood right up and was talking to the Holy Father. They hugged. The Pope smiled at something said, blessed him on the forehead, and moved on. And another prisoner hugged.
The Holy Father has just arrived at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional City. Seated in front of a couple dozen prisoners, surrounded by media. The Holy Father seems truly happy to be there. The Holy Father sits in a chair that was made for him by the inmates.
Archbishop Chaput made the very interesting point that St. Peter himself was a prisoner several times as a result of his proclamation of the Gospel, and here before the prisoners sits the successor to St. Peter.
Now we're getting a brief meditation on the significance of the chair of St. Peter, the significance of Peter teaching ex cathedra (from the chair) and saying that this indicated the nature of the gift given by the prisoners to the Holy Father.
Archbishop Chaput introduces Pope Francis as "someone who loves you."
The Holy Father is speaking of the pain caused by incarceration for the prisoners, for the families, and especially for the children of the prisoners. It's a fitting focus in this city of the World Meeting of Families. The Holy Father calls them "brothers and sisters." In our humanity, we are all brothers and sisters; in Christ, we are allowed to become once again sons and daughters of God.
The Holy Father is speaking of the washing of the feet. He has made it a practice in his pontificate to go to a prison each year for the Holy Thursday liturgy and wash the feet of inmates. That may happen today; we'll see.
On the train ride into the city today, I heard two volunteers talking about how nice everyone was being. The pilgrims were stopping to help each other find directions on their phones, walking with people to keep them company on their way until they know where they're going. One said that if he got a chance to kiss the Pope's ring, that would be it. He'd be done. He could die a happy man.
A question was asked yesterday by Dan Burke of CNN about whether or not the Holy Father would be meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse, as he had done in other visits to other countries. Today, that question was answered. Before his meeting with the bishops at the archdiocesan seminary earlier today, he met privately with a small group of victims of abuse, both abuse by clergy as well as abuse by family members. The victims were accompanied by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, and Bishop Fitzgerald, head of the local diocesan office for child protection. After that meeting, he proceeded to meet with the bishops who were attending the World Meeting of Families. Speaking to them, he passionately condemned the past abuse of children and pledged the Church to vigilant protection of children in the future. He also decried the consumerism of modern global society.
Now, it's easy to read that and let your eyes glaze over. "Oh, he condemned consumerism. Great. Everybody does that."
Take another look. Think it through.
The Pope spoke of how a consumerist society ends up treating people as just one more commodity, one more thing to be possessed when useful and discarded when we find them useless. In a sense, there's a direct connection between his condemnation of sexual abuse of children and consumerism. The children were not treated as irreplaceable persons, precious in the eyes of God, but rather as a means to satisfy lust. They were treated as things.
Consumerism is, in many ways, the exact opposite of everything the Holy Father stands for. Consumerism treats the environment as merely a source of ways to satisfy its desires, and gives rise to the "throw-away" society condemned by the Holy Father repeatedly through his pontificate. Consumerism makes possible the culture of death and the dictatorship of relativism: people can also be thrown away, like things; "truth" is a matter of personal preference and choice, depending upon the desires of the consumer.
He's cutting at the root of the poisoned plant that's causing such harm in our society, and doing it rather well.
The Holy Father also talked about the importance of living the faith, not merely explaining it ever more fully. "They will know we are Christians by our love," after all, not merely by our arguments, our reasoning, or our rhetoric.
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