Friday, September 25, 2015

Vespers with the clergy and religious of the Cathedral of New York: gratitude and hard work are the two pillars of spiritual life

Vatican City, 25 September 2015 (VIS) – Pope Francis arrived at John Kennedy Airport in New York at 5 p.m. (11 p.m. in Rome), where he was received by the cardinal archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan and Bishop Nicholas A. Di Marzio of Brooklyn, accompanied by Archbishop Bernardito C. Auza. The governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo and the mayor of the city, Bill de Blasio, were also present. The Holy Father transferred by helicopter to Manhattan, where he boarded the popemobile to travel to Cathedral of St. Patrick, where he celebrated Vespers with clergy and men and women religious.

“I have two thoughts today for my Muslim brothers and sisters. First, my good wishes as you celebrate today the day of sacrifice. I wish my greetings could have been warmer. Second, my closeness, on account of the tragedy which your people experienced today in Mecca. In this moment of prayer, I join, and all of us join, in praying to God, our almighty and merciful Father” he said.

He went on to refer to the Cathedral of St. Patrick, “built up over many years through the sacrifices of many men and women, can serve as a symbol of the work of generations of American priests and religious, and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States. ... Many did so at the cost of extraordinary sacrifice and with heroic charity. I think for example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first free Catholic school for girls in America, or St. John Neumann, the founder of the first system of Catholic education in the United States.

“This evening, my brothers and sisters, I have come to join you – priests and men and women of consecrated life – in praying 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 scandalised the Church in the most vulnerable of her members. In the words of the Book of Revelation, I say that you 'have come forth from the great tribulation' I accompany you at this moment of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to His people”.

Then, “in the hope of helping you to persevere on the path of fidelity to Jesus Christ”, he offered reflections on two aspects: the spirit of gratitude and of hard work.

Regarding gratitude, he observed that “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 the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts. … Let us seek the grace of remembrance so as to grow in the spirit of gratitude”.

“A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work”, he continued. “Once we come to realise 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. 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 ways are examples of that 'spiritual worldliness' which weakens our commitment … to serve, and diminishes the wonder, the amazement, of our first encounter with Christ”.

“We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it calls for great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labours. 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, in the failure of the cross”.

“The other danger comes when we become jealous of our free time, when we think that surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts will help us serve better”, he warned. “The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with Him. Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, our spirit of renunciation and hard work. It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves, without being consecrated. Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, 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”.

Gratitude and hard work: these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted, this evening, to share with you priests and religious. I thank you for prayers and work. … In a special way I would like to express my esteem and my 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 … a big thank you, and to tell you that I love you very much”.

“I know that many of you are in the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape”, he concluded. “Whatever difficulties and trials you face, I ask you, like St. Peter, to be at peace and to respond to them as Christ did: He thanked the Father, took up His cross and looked forward!”.

This brought to a close the Pope's first day in New York. Today, 25 September, Francis will address the Assembly of the United Nations, will attend an interreligious meeting at Ground Zero, will visit migrant families in Brooklyn and will celebrate Mass in Madison Square Garden.



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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Meeting with United States bishops: never repeat the crimes of the past

Vatican City, 24 September 2015 (VIS) – The challenges of a nation whose vast resources require not insignificant moral responsibility in a world seeking new equilibria of peace, prosperity and integration, the importance of never again repeating past “crimes” against victims of abuse, the need for dialogue instead of hard and bellicose language, and the defence of the excluded, migrants and the environment were some of the themes that Pope Francis considered yesterday in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington D.C., during his meeting with the episcopate of the United States. The following are extensive extracts from his address.

“My first word to you is one of thanksgiving to God for the power of the Gospel which has brought about remarkable growth of Christ’s Church in these lands and enabled its generous contribution, past and present, to American society and to the world. … I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit. I am well aware of the immense efforts you have made to welcome and integrate those immigrants who continue to look to America, like so many others before them, in the hope of enjoying its blessings of freedom and prosperity. I also appreciate the efforts which you are making to fulfil the Church’s mission of education in schools at every level and in the charitable services offered by your numerous institutions. These works are often carried out without appreciation or support, often with heroic sacrifice, out of obedience to a divine mandate which we may not disobey. I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realise how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.

“I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. … I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers”.

“It is not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy. ... I have no wish to tell you what to do, because we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us. Instead, I would turn once again to the demanding task – ancient yet never new – of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work. … We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. … The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care”.

“Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter His gaze and sense that He is asking us the question: 'Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?'. One in which we can calmly reply: 'Lord, here is Your mother, here are Your brothers! I hand them over to You; they are the ones whom You entrusted to me'”.

“Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor. It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ Who died and rose for our sake. The 'style' of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant 'for us'. … May the closeness of the shepherd make them them long once again for the Father’s embrace. Be vigilant that the flock may always encounter in the heart of their pastor that 'taste of eternity' which they seek in vain in the things of this world”.

“Shepherds who do not pasture themselves but are able to step back, away from the centre, to 'decrease', in order to feed God’s family with Christ. Who keep constant watch, standing on the heights to look out with God’s eyes on the flock which is His alone. … Shepherds who do not lower our gaze, concerned only with our concerns, but raise it constantly toward the horizons which God opens before us and which surpass all that we ourselves can foresee or plan. Who also watch over ourselves, so as to flee the temptation of narcissism, which blinds the eyes of the shepherd, makes his voice unrecognisable and his actions fruitless”.

“Certainly it is helpful for a bishop to have the farsightedness of a leader and the shrewdness of an administrator, but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us. Bishops need to be lucidly aware of the battle between light and darkness being fought in this world. Woe to us, however, if we make of the cross a banner of worldly struggles and fail to realise that the price of lasting victory is allowing ourselves to be wounded and consumed. … I know that you face many challenges, and that the field in which you sow is unyielding and that there is always the temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God Who anticipates in love our every response”.

“Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One Who never wearies of visiting the marketplace. … I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. ... Do not be afraid to set out on that 'exodus' which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realise deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing. … We need to … remember that Jesus’ Church is kept whole not by 'consuming fire from heaven', but by the secret warmth of the Spirit, Who 'heals what is wounded, bends what is rigid, straightens what is crooked'”.

“The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, 'the seamless garment of the Lord' cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over. … It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations. … This service to unity is particularly important for this nation, whose vast material and spiritual, cultural and political, historical and human, scientific and technological resources impose significant moral responsibilities in a world which is seeking, confusedly and laboriously, new balances of peace, prosperity and integration. ... I encourage you, then, my brothers, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges”.

“The innocent victims of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church”.

“These essential aspects of the Church’s mission belong to the core of what we have received from the Lord. It is our duty to preserve and communicate them, even when the teno

Francis arrives in the United States of America

Vatican City, 23 September 2015 (VIS) – With his arrival, ten minutes earlier than expected (3.49 p.m. local time, 9.50 p.m. in Rome) at the Andrews air base in Washington D.C. yesterday, the Pope began the second part of his apostolic trip. During his six days in the United States, he will meet with President Barack Obama and the American episcopate, canonise Blessed Junipero Serra, speak before the United States Congress (the first Pontiff to do so), meet the homeless in New York, address the United Nations, participate in an interreligious meeting at Ground Zero and a meeting for religious freedom, visit prison detainees and celebrate mass at the World Meeting of Families.

Upon arrival in the United States, Francis was received by President Barack Obama accompanied by the First Lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters. The mayor of the District of Colombia and the governors of Maryland and Virginia were also present, along with the apostolic nuncio in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, and the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The Pope and the President, with the First Lady, spoke privately for a few minutes in the airport. Following their conversation the Pope transferred by car to the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C., where he spent the night.

At 9.15 a.m. local time (3.15 p.m. in Rome) the welcome ceremony will be held in the White House, and in the grounds the Holy Father will pronounce his first discourse in the United States. He will then meet in private with President Obama, after which he will meet the bishops in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. He will later celebrate Mass for the canonisation of Blessed Junipero Serra in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Francis will conclude his day with a visit to the John Paul II Seminary.


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