Vatican City, 27 September 2015 (VIS) – Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia for the last stage of his apostolic trip yesterday at 9.30 a.m. local time (3.30 p.m. in Rome). His first act in this history city, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the United States Constitution was signed, was the celebration of Holy Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, a votive mass to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, attended by the bishops, clergy, and men and women religious of the state of Pennsyvlania.
“This morning I learned something about the history of this beautiful Cathedral: the story behind its high walls and windows”, said the Pope in his homily. “I would like to think, though, that the history of the Church in this city and state is really a story not about building walls, but about breaking them down. It is a story about generation after generation of committed Catholics going out to the peripheries, and building communities of worship, education, charity and service to the larger society. … All of this is a great legacy which you have received, and which you have been called to enrich and pass on”.
“Most of you know the story of Saint Katharine Drexel, one of the great saints raised up by this local Church”, he continued. “When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope … asked her pointedly: 'What about you? What are you going to do?'. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church”.
Those words were addressed to a “a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life. They made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realise that she was being called to do her part. How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! … To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others?” asked the Pope.
“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfil that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life”.
Francis remarked that “it is significant that those words of the elderly Pope were also addressed to a lay woman. We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities”.
“During these days of the World Meeting of Families, I would ask you in a particular way to reflect on our ministry to families, to couples preparing for marriage, and to our young people”, he concluded. “I know how much is being done in your local Churches to respond to the needs of families and to support them in their journey of faith. I ask you to pray fervently for them, and for the deliberations of the forthcoming Synod on the Family”.