“Love is our mission.”
This was the theme of both Pope Francis’ trip to the United States and the World Meeting of Families — a gathering of about 18,000 participants from more than 100 countries held in Philadelphia at the same time as the Holy Father’s visit.
I had the opportunity to hear Pope Francis in person several times during his six-day stay in the U.S. In Washington, D.C., I attended his address to the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the canonization Mass for Junipero Serra, and his historic speech to the joint session of Congress.
In Philadelphia, I was at the pope’s talk outside of Independence Hall and at several events related to the world meeting, including the outdoor closing Mass that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
You and I have seen the Holy Father countless times in photos and on television, but there is something very exciting and special about seeing him in person. Time and time again, I was struck by two things: the sense of care and personal presence he conveys even in the middle of a huge crowd, and his ability to talk plainly about important issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Pope Francis’ compassionate presence was evident in so many ways on this trip: in his encounters with the poor, prisoners, school children, families of 9/11 victims and survivors of clergy abuse; in the way he gently kissed and blessed babies presented to him along the popemobile route; in his advice to bishops for being good shepherds; and in the heartfelt and unscripted talk he gave to families in Philadelphia on the night before the closing Mass.
In that talk, he acknowledged that every family, at times, faces struggles and difficulties. But, he said, “family life is something worthwhile.” And, he said, “a society grows stronger and better, it grows in beauty and it grows in truth, when it rises on the foundation of the family.” Families are a “workshop of hope” rooted in the hope of the resurrection.
We must not forget that the initial reason for the Holy Father’s visit to the United States was to talk about, pray for and endorse family life.
This is why it was important to me for our diocese to participate in the World Meeting of Families. About three dozen people — lay people, clergy and diocesan staff — traveled to the gathering as part of a diocesan pilgrimage organized by our Office of Marriage and Family. They listened to keynote addresses and workshop presenters on a variety of topics focused on strengthening, healing and ministering to families today. You can read more about their experiences in this special section of The Visitor.
Pope Francis’ other talks in Washington, New York and Philadelphia also leave us with much to reflect on. On several occasions he talked about the importance of welcoming immigrants to our nation and local communities. He stressed the importance of religious liberty, caring for the environment and the need to dialogue and listen to others, even people with whom we may disagree.
Now that our Holy Father has left, our job is to carry his messages into our families, parishes and communities. My hope is that you will study some of his talks (they are available on the U.S. bishops’ website: www.usccb.org) in your homes and parish communities. Then, think about practical ways you can bring more peace, mercy and love into your families, into our church and into our world.
Love is our mission. Let’s live it even more deeply having been inspired by Pope Francis’ time with us.