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A message from the bishop

Pope Francis delivers Gospel message by word and gesture (November 2015)
 
My dear friends,
 
It was the most exhilarating of times, it was the most exhausting of times. With apologies to Charles Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities, this version of the sentence comes to mind as I reflect upon Pope Francis’ visit to
the United States. While Pope Francis electrified the crowds, those who followed him and attended various liturgies and events were also very tired at the end of each day!
 
We are citizens of both the earthly city and heavenly city. Yet the truth is that here on earth, we people of
faith have no lasting home. The papal visit reminded me of this at every turn. Pope Francis was greeted
at Joint Base Andrews with high ceremony as a visiting head of state. He met with President Obama. He
gave a speech to a joint assembly of Congress. He addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.
But the pope came as a pastor, not a politician. While visiting the most powerful nation of the world, Pope Francis drew our attention to the kingdom of God. He gently but insistently reminded us of our duties as its citizens, especially toward the least among us who share our “common home.”
 
To a remarkable degree, the pope rather pointedly spent time with people on the margins of our society. He prayed with inmates and their families in Philadelphia’s largest jail. In Washington, D.C., the pope met with and blessed persons who were homeless and others receiving care from Catholic Charities.
He visited third- and fourth-grade Catholic school students in East Harlem in New York. He apologized to a number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. At the National September 11 Memorial, the pope received family members of those who died in that terrorist attack.
 
The meetings were brief and largely symbolic. But for those chosen to meet Pope Francis, encountering him was a profound personal moment, a blessing, and an affirmation of their dignity and worth. With TV coverage of the pope’s every step, Francis was able to underscore that the Church exists to serve the poor, the wounded and the marginalized. While the pope sets this example, he makes it clear that this is
the responsibility of all Catholics: to care for the least of our brothers and sisters.
 
Many people braved long lines, big crowds and security checkpoints just to catch a glimpse of him. It was amazing to see how patient and cooperative they were. People stood along the streets waiting for the
popemobile or black Fiat to pass by. Why the reaction? It is because of the way the pope lives his life. He has been living a simple, authentic life of Gospel values for many decades. Because he is pope, his life is now on display for the world to see. He is a model of who we are called to be. He knows Jesus as an old friend and loves him. He lives by the Great Commandment of love of God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves.
 
For me, the most striking visual image was the small black Fiat. How out of place and almost comical it
looked in the security detail of huge black SUVs, motorcycles and other support vehicles, while the pope
waved from the open window of his small black Fiat. In a world of materialistic, consumer-oriented,
technology-driven capitalism, the car was truly countercultural. The Gospel message is also countercultural, attention-getting and surprising, just like the words and gestures of Pope Francis.
 
The immediate occasion for Pope Francis’ trip to the United States was the World Meeting of Families. The World Meeting of Families has been held every three years since Saint John Paul II convoked the first meeting in 1994; it is the largest gathering of Catholic families in the world. The pope stressed the themes and values of the family. In his U.N. speech, he spoke of the need to protect and defend human life at every stage of development, and he also noted the natural difference between man and woman among the principles of natural law. He challenges the pastors in the Church to show that the Gospel
of the Family is truly Good News in a world where “self-concern seems to reign supreme.”
 
The visit of Pope Francis had a positive impact on Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Pope Francis is very engaging and charming figure. Hopefully, that is not the only impression he made with the enthusiastic crowds and attentive leaders in Congress and the U.N. Whether or not we were able to see the pope in person, we can go back and read his addresses and reflect upon his actions. In that way, we can continue to benefit from the blessings of his visit.
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak