13 October 2015

Reflections on Pope Francis' Visit to the US: His Message and Through Our Eyes

Welcome, Everyone, to our call.  Thank you for joining together this evening for this reflection on Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States. Let us begin by reciting together the Hail Mary.

The Pope’s visit to the United States was filled with moments that were impressive yet humble and encompassed events such as addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations and Mass for over a million people in Philadelphia to visits to a small Catholic school, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and to a prison.  Everywhere he went, his profound personal simplicity underlined messages that all spoke to Catholic Social Justice and to the doctrines of the Church. His statements concerning the need to care for the environment were inextricably linked with his call to care for all humanity.  He spoke to us on so many topics in so many places, yet all were connected through Catholic teachings on Social Justice: Care and concern for the homeless and for immigrants, on climate change, on absolute respect for life at all stages, on nuclear disarmament, on fighting drug abuse, human trafficking, and corruption - and the list goes on.  His praise for the work of the sisters in this country that he first voiced prior to his visit were reiterated -and I am sure that many of us on this call feel as I do that any success we have achieved in life is in no small part due to the sisters who taught us and prayed for us.  His words were inclusive and forgiving without allowing deviation from immutable Church doctrine.  He brought a sense of wisdom, compassion, grace, and pride in being Catholic to us -and it is now up to us to ensure that his words and actions are carried forward for they are, after all, the Gospel message.

This evening, we are privileged to hear from women who were present at various events during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  We welcome with us to this call Karen Hurley who was present at the White House when the Pope first arrived in the US, Lynn Campbell who was present as he delivered his address to the US Congress, Sister Cora Lombardo who was at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York for Vespers, Maribeth Stewart who will tell us of his visit to the UN General Assembly, and Patty Johnson who will share her experience of his visit in Philadelphia.  If we have some time remaining, we shall be happy to entertain any questions or comments anyone might like to make.  Each person who speaks will be preceded by a prayer that was suggested for that part of the visit by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

We’ll hear from those who are going to share their experiences and the Pope’s messages with us in the order of Pope Francis’ visit so we shall begin with the prayer: 

As Pope Francis goes to the White House 

Almighty ever-living God,
in whose hand lies every human heart and the rights of peoples, 
look with favor, we pray,
on those who govern with authority over us,
that throughout the whole world
the prosperity of peoples,
the assurance of peace,
and freedom of religion
may, through your gift, be made secure.
Through Christ our Lord.

We now welcome Karen Hurley who was present at the White House for the Pope’s visit.

Reflections on Arrival Ceremony to Welcome Pope Francis
South Lawn of the White House, Washington, DC

Karen M. Hurley, DSS

Catholic and American History were made on September 23, 2015 as Pope Francis, the first Pope from the Americas, came to Washington on his first visit to the United States of America.  

It was a joy to be present at the Arrival Ceremony at the White House.  I arrived, in the darkness of the morning hours before dawn, to the Blue Entrance where there was no line/no waiting to go through security.  Staff and volunteers graciously welcomed and guided visitors all along the way from the entrance to the seating area.

I had been privileged to attend the Arrival Ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 so I had some sense of what to expect.  Thanks be to God the sun rose brightly that morning so that under a picture perfect blue sky the South Lawn came alive with vibrant sights and sounds: Military honor guards carried flags of the 50 states, the United States, and the Vatican City State, while the band played patriotic marches and melodies. Anticipation was building as we awaited the appearance of the President and First Lady which signaled the imminent arrival of the papal motorcade.  Escorted by Secret Service in armored Chevrolet Suburbans, His Holiness Pope Francis emerged from a small black Fiat bearing Vatican City State license plates.  There was a collective gasp from the crowd which then cheered, waved flags and alternately clicked away on their cameras and smart phones. 

This was the very first speech His Holiness ever delivered in English.  While I’ve heard Pope Francis speak in other languages at the Vatican, it was a joy to hear him speak in my mother tongue and to see him here in my homeland. Our Holy Father immediately made a   “family connection” with us as he said:

“…As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people….

… I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.”

Pope Francis noted that “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of… discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are … concerned that efforts to build a just … society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty…   All are called to be vigilant,… as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

Pope Francis commended the President for proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.  He said, “We know by faith that ‘the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home’ (Laudato Si’, 13). As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

His Holiness also referred to US-Cuban relations saying the efforts “to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.”

Pope Francis concluded with the immortal words, “God bless America,” which led to more applause, cheers, and a few tears, from the crowd.

God did bless America in a special way by this Apostolic Visit.  I greatly admire Pope Francis for having made the tremendous effort to speak in English so we could hear and understand him.  We can all appreciate the apprehension that comes with the anticipation of speaking in public.  I know how difficult it is for me to do so in a language other than English.  This was a great public witness to move beyond personal comfort for the good of another, and truly set the stage as His Holiness came to meet and to dialogue, to listen and to learn, to share and to inspire us.  This first address affirmed the founding principles of our country, all that is good in American society, as well as initiatives to protect our “common home” more fully stated in the encyclical Laudato Si’.  Pope Francis strongly expressed grave concerns for the safeguarding of religious freedom.  He encouraged our nation to support international efforts to protect the most vulnerable so that all may know God’s richest blessings.

America was truly blessed by the words and actions which defined the loving witness of His Holiness.  I thank God for the privilege to be a part of the historic day on which Pope Francis was welcomed at the White House.  You were there with me in spirit.  

Thank you, Karen, for your words that certainly caught the spirit felt by those present.  We are very grateful that you could share this with us tonight and we appreciate that you had us with you in spirit at that historic moment.

Next, we have the prayer As Pope Francis addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress,

O God, who arranges all things in wondrous order
and governs in marvelous ways,
look with favor on the assembled, for whom we now pray,
and mercifully pour out upon them the spirit of your wisdom,
that they may decide everything for the well-being and peace of all
and may never turn aside from your will.
Through Christ our Lord.

We now hear from Lynn Campbell who was privileged to be present at that Joint Meeting of Congress for the Papal Visit:

Lynn Campbell

Reflection on Pope Francis’s speech to Congress September 24, 2015

I’m the Director of the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry of the Archdiocese of Hartford, CT. We are an archdiocesan office whose mission is to advance Catholic Social Teaching, CST, by educating and preparing parishes to work for social justice. We are responsible for several of the US Bishops’ programs to be implemented on the diocesan level such as CRS and the CCHD.

I was fortunate to receive a gallery pass to attend the historical event of Pope Francis’s address to the joint session of Congress. Each Senator and Representative had one gallery pass and several lawn seats for the Pope’s talk to Congress to distribute. I was offered a gallery pass by 1 of our US Senators, 10 days before the event

It was a day I’ll never forget. It was a privilege to be seated in the Gallery of the Chamber among members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and above all – in the presence of the Holy Father.

Once I got into the gallery/Chamber – there was such excitement among the other attendees, but also looking down from my seat at our senators and representatives – they were also very excited.

I had read that the members of Congress were encouraged to just listen to the Pope’s talk and applaud at the end. However, that was not the case, and we in the gallery followed the lead of those seated below and stood and applauded, too. There may have been one instance when the gallery started the applause and that was when the Pope said “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of development.”
The speech was addressed not only to Congress but to the entire people of the US and because of the issues he spoke about – it really felt like he was talking to me!

He covered a wide spectrum of social concerns which as an office we address:  local and global poverty, the death penalty, the refugee crisis, and care for creation.  His message to Congress is based on Catholic Social Teaching, and he frequently spoke of “Solidarity” and “The Common Good”. Two items struck me during his talk: 

One was how he conveyed his message 

His tone was not of lecturing, but of acknowledging what has been done and then insisting that “More still needs to be done”. He set a mood of solidarity by identifying himself from this continent and a “Son of immigrants”. And, he consistently used the word “We” as in “what we must do” rather than what “You should do” 

He used the word “Dialogue” 11 times, not only to describe how he wanted his speech to be received, but also in regards to the importance of dialogue. One could easily infer that he was speaking to the parties within Congress. But he also talked about the importance of dialogue to address world problems. Dialogue is important as we address immigration concerns – we must see people’s faces and listen to their stories to see how best to respond to their situation. He also stressed Dialogue as important in regards to end the “many armed conflicts throughout the world”.  

The other item which impressed me was his use of 4 Americans to exemplify his message of the shaping of American values.  He referred to …Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day. These are examples of people who worked for Social Justice. I can’t imagine if either Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day were ever spoken of in the Chamber before, both of whom were very rooted in prayer. He connected current concerns with these 4 Americans:  Lincoln to defending liberty, King to the “dream” of fulfilled human rights, Day to poverty and justice, and Merton to dialogue and peace.

I pray that Congress will take his message to heart, move beyond divisions, and work for the Common Good.

Thank you so much, Lynn, for sharing the privilege you received with us.  We are so grateful to you for this gift.

Next, we have the prayer As Pope Francis goes to pray vespers with men and women religious in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  

O God, who inspires and brings to fulfillment every good intention,
direct your servants into the way of eternal salvation,
and, as they have left all things to devote themselves entirely to you,
grant that, following Christ and renouncing the things of this world,
they may faithfully serve you and their neighbor
in a spirit of poverty and in humility of heart.
Through Christ our Lord.

We now have Sister Cora Lombardo with us to tell us of that evening in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  

Pope's Address at Vespers in New York

Good evening. My name is Sister Cora Lombardo. I am an Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus whose provincialate is in Hamden, CT and generalate is in Rome. I was present at the Pope’s address at Vespers in St. Patrick Cathedral on Thursday, September 24. 

What you may not know is for the past few years St. Patrick Cathedral has been in the process of being restored and renovated. It is not only clean but pristinely beautiful. It reminds me of what we do when we have company coming: we clean.
When we arrived in Manhattan we were guided to the New York Palace Hotel to be wanded and then directed to the ballroom on the second floor where we waited for two hours for St. Patrick Cathedral to be secured. Once we arrived in the cathedral we waited for another two or three hours. As we waited we chatted with each other, but as the time for the Pope’s arrival approached we began to quiet down. About a half hour prior to his arrival we together prayed the rosary. As we prayed for the Pope and the Church in the USA, I had a great sense of our oneness. 

Since I’m less than five feet, I did not see very much when the Holy Father came down the aisle. All I could see was a sea of hands holding up their cell phones. What made this event different than then his arrival at the White House or his speech to Congress was the Pope came to pray with us for vocations.  The first thing he did was to give his greetings to his Muslim brothers and sisters and then expressed his closeness to them over the tragedy that happened in Mecca.  I quote: 

“Firstly, my greetings as they celebrate today the Feast of Sacrifice. I would have wished my greeting to be warmer. The second sentiment is my closeness, my closeness due to the tragedy that your people has suffered today in Mecca. In these moments of prayer, I unite myself and we unite ourselves in prayer to God, our Father, all Powerful and Merciful.]

His sensitivity and his concern and care for the Muslim people impressed me and what he said: “In these moments of prayer, I unite myself and we unite ourselves in prayer to God, our Father, all Powerful and Merciful.]” It wasn’t just the Holy Father who united himself in prayer, but he brought all of us with him. Then using 1 Peter, he said:  “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 remind us of something essential. “Our vocation is to be lived in joy.” 

Pope Francis often speaks of joy, especially the joy of the Gospel. That night He wasn’t speaking only to the women and men religious or priests or the young people in formation, he was also speaking to the men and women lay people who as donors and benefactors of the Cathedral, the Archdiocese and Catholic Education. In a manner of speaking, St. Patrick Cathedral became a metaphor for all of us working together to build up the Church in the United States.  How? By taking joy in our vocation whatever it is as a married person, a religious or a single person. By becoming the person God is calling us to be. So that our call is a call within a call. We have our career, but within it we have this call to share the joy of the Gospel with our family and friends and at work. This is the New Evangelization. 

The Pope continued: 
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. 

With these words Pope Francis acknowledged the suffering of the Church in the United States. He was referring to the pedophile scandal and the anguish suffered by the Church but most especially by the priests in the United States. I have seen this pain in our priests. My own cousin, when he celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination, did not want to dress in clerical garb: “I don’t want people to think I’m one of them.” 

Pope Francis continued: 
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. [Brothers and sisters, consecrated and priests,] 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? [Or have I forgotten them?]

The Holy Father invites us to be grateful. You probably know that the word Eucharist in Greek means Thanksgiving. He calls us to remember. Remember when we were first aware of our call: when we first met our spouse, when we first became aware of how we can use the gifts and talents we have to build up the Kingdom of God. 

Now you need to know that the Holy Father spoke in Spanish, since I don’t understand Spanish, I read the translation on big screens on the columns. 

The Holy Father continued: 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. 

One of the things you need to know is my name is Cora because of my love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and because of Jesus’ great love for us. Then the Holy Father spoke of the dangers to our commitment to the apostolate. 

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 [as women and men consecrated] to serve and diminishes the wonder, [the awe], of our first encounter with Christ. 

Pope Francis then mentions “measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world.” 

He continues: But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. …The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. …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.

These words encourage us that God is the One to give the growth. We simply plant seeds that other water and tend. Then he mentions another danger: ”…when we become jealous of our free time.”  

Next he spoke about the need for rest: 
Rest is needed, …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. 

The Pope focuses on the needs of the poor and calls us to greater generosity! Then he summarizes:  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. 

The next words of the Holy Father touched me the most. 
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. 

When I heard these words, “What would the Church be without you?” I was very moved, because of the unique role women religious played in the history of our country. I also knew these words were spoken to all women. “What would the Church be without you?” It is usually we women who hold families and groups together. We’re the ones to see the need and find a way to respond to it. The Pope’s thank you moved me to tears, because so many times we’re thanked perfunctorily, but his words were from the heart. 

Then he continues: 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! 

….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. 

We then all prayed with him and for him. As we fell into deep prayer, I thanked God for my vocation as a women religious and most especially as an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And I thank you. 

Sr. Cora Lombardo, ASCJ

Thank you so much, Sister.  This was wonderful and we are so very happy you could be with us tonight to share your experience.

Next, we have the prayer As Pope Francis addresses world leaders at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York 

O God, who gave one origin to all peoples
and willed to gather from them one family for yourself,
fill all hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love
and kindle in them a desire
for the just advancement of their neighbor,
that, through the good things which you richly bestow upon all,
each human person may be brought to perfection,
every division may be removed,
and equity and justice may be established in human society.
Through Christ our Lord.

United Nations General Assembly Friday, 25 September 2015 –Maribeth Stewart

It was necessary to be in our seats by 7:30am due to security restrictions but I doubt that anyone, heads of state such as Angela Merkel and UN diplomats included, regretted having to rise early and to wait for over two hours for the fifth visit of a pope to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.  There was a palpable air of anticipation and excitement in that packed hall and I couldn’t help but reflect that there were people there from so many religions and cultures different from mine as people spoke with each other and their delegations in many different languages and wore different dress, yet we were all there to see and hear more than a head of state, though indeed the Pope is that. We were there to see and hear a man who as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world has captured the attention and admiration of people who are Catholic, non-Catholic, and who are unbelievers.  In two years, his humility and his wisdom have touched the world with his message of inclusion, forgiveness, care and concern for all, and now we waited to hear him speak directly to world leaders and janitors at this place dedicated to peace and the advancement of human rights.

At exactly 9:45 am he entered the Hall to great applause.  He appeared full of life though he had just come from exhausting events and meetings in Cuba and in Washington, D.C.  He was clearly energized and ready for this session.  His smile was captivating and genuine and reached to the back of the room.  He sat in the chair where heads of state wait to make their speeches and was introduced by the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who is a huge fan of the Pope’s stance on the environment and human rights.  His Excellency mentioned that Pope Francis was making papal history by addressing the largest number of world leaders ever at the United Nations and he noted the great humility and humanity of the pope when he said to him, “You are not at home in palaces, but among the poor; not in the homes of the famous, but with the forgotten; not in official portraits, but in ‘selfies’ with young people.”  He noted that the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change comes at a critical time when nations will gather in Paris in December in a pivotal conference to discuss this issue.  He concluded by thanking the Pope for showing again his “remarkable global status as a man of faith for all faiths.”  This introduction was met with great applause.

The Pope took the podium and seemed totally at ease, at times appearing very serious and at others, flashing that engaging smile.  

He began his 35 minute talk by noting his esteem for the UN saying it is the appropriate juridical and political response to this present time in history.  He reaffirmed the importance the Catholic Church attaches to the UN and the hope she places in its activities.  He noted that it is the 70th Anniversary of the UN this year and spoke of its great achievements but cautioned that there was still so much to do.  He said that the achievements were “lights that help dispel the darkness of disorder” and that without the UN, there is doubt that mankind would have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities.  The UN is the path to attaining the ideal of human fraternity and for that he thanked all involved in the United Nations.

He then noted that reform and adoption to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries a share in and equitable influence on decision making.  He said that a reform was needed of the UN system and of the international financial agencies to give poorer countries a greater voice to ensure they were not subjected to oppressive lending systems that generate greater poverty, exclusion, and dependence.  He spoke of the UN’s development and promotion of the role of law and said that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself.  No person or group can consider itself absolute and be allowed to bypass the dignity and rights of other individuals or social groups.  There was great applause for this statement.

He then said that today some powers are badly exercised: The natural environment is abused as are the vast ranks of the excluded and these two are closely interconnected.  He said that a true right of the environment exists.  Human beings are part of the environment living in communion with it.  Therefore, any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity.  Every creature has intrinsic value as the gift of a loving decision by the Creator who allows man to use creation respectfully for the good of their fellow men and for the glory of the Creator.  Man is not authorized to abuse or destroy this.  In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.

The ecological crisis and the large scale destruction of biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human species.  “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing but ourselves.”  Therefore, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion of our fellow men demand that we recognize that they are intertwined.  Without recognizing certain natural ethical limits and without implementing a means of giving all equal dignity and a way to live in this world, the standards of the UN to save generations from the scourge of war and to promote social progress become an illusion or idle chatter that covers abuse such as ideological colonization.

He went on to say that misuse of the environment is part of today’s widespread culture of waste.  A boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads to the misuse of natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged. Economic and social exclusion is the complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.  The poorest suffer the most from this through economic and social exclusion. They are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from abuse of the environment.  This grave injustice now compels him to speak out strongly on this issue.  Agreements are good but are not enough.  There must be an end to economic and social exclusion and their consequences of human trafficking, marketing of organs and tissues, slave labor including prostitution, the drugs and weapons trade, terrorism, and international organized crime.  We need truly effective institutions to fight these scourges and we need technical ways to verify their end –we are dealing with the lives of real men and women.

He then went on to say that integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity must be allowed to unfold for each individual, each family, in communion with others.  Governments must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the same minimal spiritual and material means to live in dignity and to create and support a family, the primary cell of social development.  This absolute minimum has three, what he called, names: lodging, labor, and land and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

He went on to say war is the negation of all rights and we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and peoples.  The proliferation of arms, particularly weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons, in the name of peace, is self-contradictory and may cause the destruction of all mankind.   He then stated that “There is an urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.” This statement received sustained applause from all present.  He then said that the recent agreement on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience, and constancy.  

He then went on to say that hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions that are not coordinated with the international community.  He spoke of the pain felt due to the situations in the Ukraine, and in Africa and the Middle East where Christians and other minority cultural and ethnic groups are being persecuted.  He repeated his appeal to the Secretary General to do all that the UN can to stop and prevent further systematic violence against minorities and he called on government leaders to protect innocent people.

He next went on to speak of a silent war killing many people: Drug trafficking accompanied by human trafficking, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption.  He noted that this is a corruption that has penetrated all levels of social, political, military, artistic, and religious life.
He closed by saying that the UN , the common home of all men and women, must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and woman, the poor, the elderly, the children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable.  The common house of all men and women (the UN) must also be built on the understanding of the sacredness of created nature.

He stated that we cannot allow ourselves to postpone agendas to the future but that it is vital that action, not just words, be taken now.  

He closed by invoking the blessing of the Most High and peace and prosperity upon all present and the people they represent.  

There was a huge thunderous sustained standing ovation –and he seemed to want to look away; his humility was evident then.  Then he looked up and there was that great smile, a little wave and then he turned and walked away from the podium.

It was a well constructed talk that in 35 minutes touched upon so many topics that all, at heart, spoke to the interdependence of men to each other and to their environment to include:

-Praise for what has been accomplished through 70 years of international cooperation at the UN and a call for reform to UN and financial agencies to give developing nations a full voice and fair financial terms

-A very strong statement that here is a true right of the environment.  Environmental degradation due to selfish and boundless thirst for power and wealth causes great suffering for the poor who are cast off from society

-He denounced ideological colonization of the developing world –a reference to how abortion and contraception are often tied to development aid for poor nations, an issue that the Vatican often speaks against at the UN.

-He spoke of the great evil of war and the suffering of Christians and minorities at present and the pressing need for complete nuclear disarmament before we end humankind.

-He urged world leaders to take effective verifiable steps to fight against drug trafficking, organ trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, corruption, and the weapons trade.

-He affirmed the absolute right to life in all its stages and dimensions and he spoke of the natural difference between men and women, a reference to the Vatican’s long standing effort at the UN against abusive gender statements.

-He noted his support for the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. He spoke of the universal right to decent housing, clean water, jobs and education and he paused to make sure everyone heard his emphasis when he said for boys and girls.

-He called for a guarantee for all people to material and spiritual rights to include the right of all to lodging, labor, land, education and religious freedom.
It was such a tremendous privilege to be present for his talk. To be in his presence is something that always fills me with joy.  I was going to say awe or something like one would expect to feel when with a person of such prestige and office, but the reality is that he cuts right through any feeling like that and one senses, whether it is in a very small audience or in a huge hall, that he is right with you and you feel such joy and happiness.  I shall remember the points of his message and pray for their realization, but I shall always remember the wisdom from such an intellect coupled with that smile and warmth that can only come from one who is genuinely glad to be with you and who loves you.  What a blessing to have these memories and I hope that I have been able to share some of this with you tonight.

Finally, we move to Philadelphia with Our Holy Father.  There, the USCCB recommended the prayer As Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the Parkway in Philadelphia at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families.

The World Meeting of Families Prayer:

God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us
your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.
May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek your truth and live in your love.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Patty Johnson, a Past President of the NCCW, is now going to share with us what it was like to be in Philadelphia and to tell us of the message our Pope gave us there.

Pilgrimage to Philadelphia

Being a pilgrim with the Diocese of Knoxville, traveling to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families was a grace filled opportunity.  We were a group of 70 who prepared for over a year for this event with meetings at the Chancery, prayer, and of course lots of study and emails.  Before we boarded the buses leaving for Philadelphia, the two priests who were traveling with us celebrated Mass for the pilgrims at 6:00am.

The local network TV stations were there to interview several of us.  I was interviewed by ABC and CBS.  We were grateful to know that this important event for us could also be significant and an inspiration to those unable to go with us.

The journey was a long 13 hours, but we sang and prayed and had good conversation all along the way.  I liked our Pilgrim’s Litany which in part went like this:

“If I should get tired and inclined to become short tempered, Lord, may I remember that I am a Pilgrim, not a tourist!”

“If someone takes a better seat or a more choice place, Lord, may I remember that I am a Pilgrim, not a tourist!”

“If I find myself last in line waiting, Lord, may I remember that I am a Pilgrim, not a tourist!”

The presence of Pope Francis in Philadelphia was the culmination to the events surrounding the World Meeting Families and we did participate in this World gathering of Families for the two days preceding the Pope’s arrival.  The anticipation and excitement of the Pope’s arrival was on our hearts those days we were in conference.  The joy we all felt once Pope Francis was on the ground in Philadelphia was overwhelming.  This kind of event really transforms people’s lives.  As the Festival of Families began on the Ben Franklin parkway, the crowd grew from early morning when we arrived and staked out our spots until Saturday afternoon when the first Papal parade began.  We did have tickets so were able to be closer than most and able to get good fence position for excellent views of Pope Francis as he went by blessing us all in his pope mobile on both Saturday and Sunday.  We felt like we were so close to heaven on Holy Ground in the presence of our very loving and compassionate Pope.  You could feel the love and care of the Pope for us and we were graced to extend that same love and care to the multitudes all around us.  The feelings of peace and joy in this very large crowd were overwhelming as we awaited the address of Pope Francis that afternoon.

Pope Francis began his address by extending his gratitude and thanks for all those who had offered their witness by being present.  He said, “Our presence was a great witness, a real witness of being family. He continued to say that God has so loved us that he poured His love in creation and sent His Son to a family explaining that God gives his love to open hearts like Mary and Joseph.  He encouraged us that God wants our families to love each other and wants our families to develop a society with truth, goodness and beauty.  Two specific points Pope Francis made about family were that “Love is able to overcome all difficulties in the family and he especially asked us to “Take care of Children and Grandparents for in these we have expressions of hope, love, memory and strength to move forward.  People are blessed and at their best when they are part of a family composed of a mother, a father, children and grandparents.   For the church, the family is a joyous confirmation of God’s blessing upon the masterpiece of creation.

On Sunday morning, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Cathedral for the Bishops.  In his message to them he focused on the words. “What about You” in the specific mission to transmit the “Joy of the Gospel” and to build up the Church.  He asked the question, “Do we make space for our young people in our parishes? Do we build up their enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and love for Christ?  And do we share our own joy and enthusiasm with them?”

The challenge was to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission which calls for much more active involvement of the laity.  He said, “Build on our Catechesis.  Use the gifts of the spirit poured out on us.”

On Sunday, the crowds began gathering early in the morning and swelled to over a million by the time of the Papal parade and Mass at 3:00pm.  Pope Francis has an uncanny knack for cutting through the huge crowd and connecting with each person that was present.  He radiates love, joy, peace and mercy.  Although we did get some good pictures of Pope Francis in his Pope mobile, it was not really the pictures that seemed to be important, it was more just being in his presence and experiencing his blessing over and over and knowing that he cared about each one of us.  The Pope addressed the theme of the event, “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” and reached out to those who feel neglected and on the margins. He came with the intention of building up families and we all felt much hope to see our married lives and family lives renewed in the spirit of the Gospel.

In his homily for the closing he emphasized the love God has for us and how God scatters seeds of His Love and Presence in our World today. He said God waits for us to respond to His love.  The gospel had told of the working of the spirit and Pope Francis said we must not doubt the spirit working in those who are not like us or part of our group.  We must not block the conversion to faith.  Faith opens a window to the presence of the Working of the Spirit.  It shows us that like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.  Little gestures of kindness in the home make each day different and these are signs we give of tenderness, affection and compassion.  He pointed out that our families are true domestic churches and the right place for faith to be alive.  Signs of love are signs of Jesus presence living and active in our world.  The Spirit challenges us to leave to our children homes protected as models of communion, not division.  Where children are concerned, we are capable of boundless generosity.  

He want us each to take away something positive we could bring to our families and asked the question, “ Do you shout at one another or do you speak with tenderness”  That has really stuck with me and I think of it every day when I check my own tone of voice as well as when I hear others speaking.  

The Pope again thanked us for our presence which he said was a truthful witness that Family is something worthwhile.  These were indeed days of great grace as we witnessed first-hand the messages of truth, love and mercy given to us by Pope Francis.

Thank you so much, Patty.  I hope that everyone felt as I do that we, too, were present, through your great narrative.

I want to thank everyone who participated this evening on this call, especially those who were gracious enough to share with us their first hand experience and the messages they heard.  They are Karen Hurley, Lynn Campbell, Sister Cora Lombardo, and Patty Johnson We are most grateful to you for helping us relive this extraordinary time in our Catholic life in our country.  

Thank you to all for participating this evening. We need to recall the Holy Father’s constant request that we pray for him so we need to remember that.  
We’ll now close with the prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel composed by the Chairman of the Spiritual Advisors of the NCCW, Father James Stembler:

Heavenly Father,
We have come together as the National Council of Catholic Women to be your witnesses in this world. 
Through our programs and our efforts, we strive to be the voice for all Catholic women in our country. 
We take this responsibility seriously and we pray that all our members will be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. 
Help us to accomplish the work you have given us to do and may we continue to come together and form a community of faith. 
Through your grace and power, may your will be done in our lives. 
Through the intercession of our patroness, Our Lady of Good Counsel, may the National Council of Catholic Women continue to evangelize your message effectively so that all people will know of your great love for us. 
Thank you again for gathering together this evening for our NCCW Monthly Members’ call and I wish everyone a most blessed and happy night.  Our Lady of Good Counsel, Pray for us. Good night.

-Maribeth Stewart