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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The future of the Church requires more active participation of the laity

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”.

Meeting with the Hispanic community and other immigrants: “Never be ashamed of your traditions”

Vatican City, 27 September 2015 (VIS) – The Independence National Historical Park, considered the “most historic square mile in America” for its numerous buildings linked to the American War of Independence between the United States of America and Great Britain (1763-1783), was the scene of the Pope's meeting with the Hispanic community and other immigrants. The central theme of his discourse was religious freedom and the defence of the roots of every individual and people. Upon arrival, the representatives of the “Encuentros Nacionales del ministerio Hispano” asked the Holy Father to bless a “Biblia Catolica para la Familia y para el Joven” - a Catholic Bible for the Family and the Young – and the “Cruz de los Encuentros”, the cross carried on pilgrimages throughout all the United States in preparation for each national “Encuentro” of the community. The initiative was started in 1972, and is intended to enhance the contribution of the Hispano-Latin community to the life and decisions of the Catholic Church in the country. The next Encuentro will take place in January 2017.

In his address to the thousands of people gathered in the Park, the Pope remarked that one of the highlights of his trip was his visit to Independence Mall, the birthplace of the United States of America, where the freedoms that define the country were proclaimed for the first time. “The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights. Those resounding words continue to inspire us today, even as they have inspired peoples throughout the world to fight for the freedom to live in accordance with their dignity. But history also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. ... We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labour movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed”.

He went on to speak of the importance of remembering the past, as “a people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or use it for their interests”. He then reiterated his wish, “in this place which is symbolic of the American way” to “reflect … on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbours whose religious views differ from our own”.

“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate”, he explained. “But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. ... They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. We need only look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another 'earthly paradise' by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights. Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction. ... At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights. … In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others”.

We live in a world “subject to globalisation … which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity. The religions thus have the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where a healthy pluralism which respects differences and values them as such is a precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity… and a path to peace in our troubled world”.

He went on to mention the Quakers who founded Philadelphia, “inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love. This conviction led them to found a colony which would be a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. That sense of fraternal concern for the dignity of all, especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit. During his visit to the United States in 1987, St. John Paul II paid moving homage to this, reminding all Americans that: 'The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones'”.

“I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbours in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard. In this witness, which frequently encounters powerful resistance, you remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails. A moment ago I spoke about the tendency towards globalisation. Globalisation is not an ill. On the contrary, the tendency towards globalisation is good in that it unites us. The aspect that can be bad is the way in which it is realised. If globalisation aims to make us all equal, like a sphere, then it destroys the specific character of each person and each population. If instead it aims to unite all, but respecting each person, with his or her richness and particular characteristics, then this globalisation is good and makes us all grow; it leads us to peace. I like using geometry to describe this. If globalisation is a sphere, in which we are all equal, equidistant from the centre, then it annuls difference and is not good. If on the other hand it unites us like a polyhedron, in which we are all united but each person conserves his or her individual identity, then it is good, allows the people to grow, endows all men with dignity and grants rights to all”.

Finally, he addressed America’s large Hispanic population, along with representatives of recent immigrants to the United States. “I greet all of you with particular affection!” he exclaimed. “Many of you have emigrated to this country at great personal cost, but in the hope of building a new life. Do not be discouraged by whatever challenges and hardships you face. I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation. You should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood. You are also called to be responsible citizens, and to contribute fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live. I think in particular of the vibrant faith which so many of you possess, the deep sense of family life and all those other values which you have inherited. By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within. Do not lose the memory of what happened here more than two centuries ago. Never forget that Declaration which proclaimed that all men and women were created equal, that the Creator has endowed them with inalienable rights, that governments exist to protect and defend these rights”.

Pope Francis concluded by thanking all present for their warm welcome, adding, “Let us conserve this freedom. Take care of freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of every person, every family, every people, which gives rise to our rights”.

God gave Creation to a family

Vatican City, 27 September 2015 (VIS) – The Pope's first day in Philadelphia concluded yesterday with his participation in the Festival of Families in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Pope arrived by popemobile, greeted by thousands of faithful and well-wishers along the way. The event was hosted by the actor Mark Wahlberg, and there were performances by several musicians, including Aretha Franklin, who sang “Amazing Grace”, the tenor Andrea Bocelli who performed the Lord's Prayer accompanied by the Philadelphia Symphonic Orchestra, and the Colombian singer Juanes. The festival also included readings, some by the actor Jim Caviezel, and testimonies from families from all over the world.

The Pope set aside the official text prepared for the occasion, which is given below, and improvised a brief address in which he said that God gave the “most beautiful thing He had”, the world, to a family, to a man and a woman so that they would grow, multiply and make the land fruitful. Francis also remarked that He wanted His only Son to grow up within a family home, and emphasised that the family enjoys “divine citizenship”. While there are problems in every home, they can be overcome with love, whereas the division of the heart prevents difficulties from being overcome. Finally, he insisted on the special care due to children and the elderly, the hope and memory of the family.

“Dear brothers and sisters, dear families. First of all, I want to thank the families who were willing to share their life stories with us. Thank you for your witness! It is always a gift to listen to families share their life experiences; it touches our hearts. We feel that they speak to us about things that are very personal and unique, which in some way involve all of us. In listening to their experiences, we can feel ourselves drawn in, challenged as married couples and parents, as children, brothers and sisters, and grandparents.

“As I was listening, I was thinking how important it is for us to share our home life and to help one another in this marvellous and challenging task of 'being a family'. Being with you makes me think of one of the most beautiful mysteries of our Christian faith. God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for Himself than Emmanuel. He is 'God with us'. This was His desire from the beginning, His purpose, His constant effort: to say to us: 'I am God with you, I am God for you. He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: 'It is not good for man to be alone'. We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh. The two are meant to be a home, a family.

“From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this 'God with us', who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home. God does not dream by Himself, He tries to do everything 'with us'. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.

“That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with Him, to want to build with Him, to join Him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless. As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships. We learn that 'to love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgement, it is a promise'. We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.

“Jesus was not a confirmed bachelor, far from it! He took the Church as His bride, and made her a people of His own. He laid down His life for those He loved, so that His bride, the Church, could always know that He is God with us, His people, His family. We cannot understand Christ without His Church, just as we cannot understand the Church without her spouse, Christ Jesus, Who gave His life out of love, and Who makes us see that it is worth the price.

“Laying down one’s life out of love is not easy. As with the Master, 'staking everything' can sometimes involve the cross. Times when everything seems uphill. I think of all those parents, all those families who lack employment or workers’ rights, and how this is a true cross. How many sacrifices they make to earn their daily bread! It is understandable that, when these parents return home, they are so weary that they cannot give their best to their children.

“I think of all those families which lack housing or live in overcrowded conditions. Families which lack the basics to be able to build bonds of closeness, security and protection from troubles of any kind.

“I think of all those families which lack access to basic health services. Families which, when faced with medical problems, especially those of their younger or older members, are dependent on a system which fails to meet their needs, is insensitive to their pain, and forces them to make great sacrifices to receive adequate treatment.

“We cannot call any society healthy when it does not leave real room for family life. We cannot think that a society has a future when it fails to pass laws capable of protecting families and ensuring their basic needs, especially those of families just starting out. How many problems would be solved if our societies protected families and provided households, especially those of recently married couples, with the possibility of dignified work, housing and healthcare services to accompany them throughout life.

“God’s dream does not change; it remains intact and it invites us to work for a society which supports families. A society where bread, 'fruit of the earth and the work of human hands' continues to be put on the table of every home, to nourish the hope of its children.

“Let us help one another to make it possible to 'stake everything on love'. Let us help one another at times of difficulty and lighten each other’s burdens. Let us support one another. Let us be families which are a support for other families.

“Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is 'forged' by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows. Love can flourish in men and women who try not to make conflict the last word, but rather a new opportunity. An opportunity to seek help, an opportunity to question how we need to improve, an opportunity to discover the God Who is with us and never abandons us. This is a great legacy that we can give to our children, a very good lesson: we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes. But we know that that is not really what counts. We know that mistakes, problems and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others, to draw closer to God.

“This evening we have come together to pray, to pray as a family, to make our homes the joyful face of the Church. To meet that God who did not want to come into our world in any other way than through a family. To meet 'God with us', the God Who is always in our midst”.

Today, 27 September, the Pope will meet the bishops attending the World Meeting of Families in the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, visit detainees at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and will celebrate Mass to conclude the Eighth World Meeting of Families in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. After greeting the organisers of the event and the volunteers who participated, he will board his return flight to Rome, departing at 8 p.m. local time (2 a.m., 28 September in Rome).

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 27 September 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic, presented by Bishop Albert Vanbuel, S.D.B., upon reaching the age limit.
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