Pope Francis in America
September 29, 2015 — Archbishop José H. Gomez
What a privilege I felt to be in Washington and Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit to America and the World Meeting of Families.
It was beautiful for me to be able to pray and worship with the Holy Father — and also to see how he listens and shares in the stories of the people he encounters.
In my encounters with him, he was warm and kind and happy. After the canonization Mass for St. Junípero Serra he was smiling and he asked me about our three new auxiliary bishops. He told me that he has been praying for them and he asked me to bring back his blessing to the whole family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And of course, he asked that we keep him in our prayers, too.
My impression was that Pope Francis was touched by the faith of the people of the United States. I think he saw firsthand that American Catholics are men and women of strong devotion, with
deep family ties and a commitment to service and charity.
I also believe the pope experienced for the first time how Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, shelters and other ministries help to shape the social fabric of America — working to build a culture of caring and compassion in the United States.
There is nothing in the world like the Catholic charitable and social justice networks that we have in the United States. And I think the pope was moved to see that.
The pope came to America to listen and to learn. And he also came to teach and to accompany us in our own journey of faith.
I encourage you to join me in continuing to reflect on the speeches and homilies that Pope Francis delivered during his apostolic journey. These talks offer important insights into America’s meaning and mission and they also offer rich practical advice for living our Catholic faith at this moment in our country’s history.
I had the privilege to be with the Holy Father at his historic address at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, in front of the hall where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed.
I gave a short talk at Independence Mall and, along with two of my brother bishops and an immigrant family from Pittsburgh, we presented the Pope with La Cruz de los Encuentros (“The Cross of the Encuentros”) — a symbol of the faith journey of the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States.
When he spoke, Pope Francis used the same podium that was used by President Abraham Lincoln when he delivered his Gettysburg Address.
He reminded us that America’s promise of freedom is rooted in the founders’ belief in our Creator who makes each of us and endows us with sacred dignity and rights that no one can take away.
Calling religious liberty “a fundamental right,” he urged us never to forget that this means more than the freedom to pray and worship. Religious liberty also includes the right to think and act according to one’s conscience and to participate in the civic and cultural life of America.
Efforts to marginalize or exclude believers from American life are a form of “modern tyranny,” Pope Francis said. In the face of efforts to “reduce [religion] to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square,” he urged believers of all faiths to join together in calling for “peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and the rights of others.”
I was pleased also with the pope’s beautiful words about the importance of immigration and immigrant communities in the shaping of America.
Several times, he spoke of being the son of an immigrant. And he called us not to turn our back on the immigrants who are in our midst.
He addressed these important words to members of Congress: “Thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”
This is precisely the issue — we need to remember the humanity of the immigrants. We need to remember that no matter how they came here, they are all children of God. Their lives are precious and they deserve our welcome and protection.
The pope called Americans to remember our roots as a nation of immigrants and he called us to remember the “Golden Rule” — to treat others as we would like to be treated. My hope is that our leaders and all of us will take those messages to heart and seek solutions to our challenges that are just and merciful and enduring.
Pope Francis spoke beautifully of the faith and virtues of the Hispanic people — their “vibrant faith” and their “deep sense of family life.”
And he addressed them with these personal, pastoral words, which I hope we can share widely around the archdiocese and the country:
“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. … By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within.”
For me, the highlight of the pope’s journey was the canonization of St. Junípero Serra. I was delighted to know that our cathedral was packed with Catholic school children and others watching the live telecast of the canonization Mass.
St. Junípero’s canonization is truly a historic moment — America’s first Latino saint and a saint who calls us to continue the mission of evangelizing our nation and our continent.
In his homily at the canonization, Pope Francis held up our new Latino saint as a model for all of us. “He was the embodiment of ‘a Church which goes forth,’ a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. … He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.”
What a beautiful apostolic goal for all of us in our lives — to bring the reconciling tenderness of God to everyone, to help others to know that they are children of God and to live as brothers and sisters.
This week, let’s thank God for the apostolic witness of Pope Francis to our country. Let’s pray for one another and ask God to give us all the grace to make a new commitment to the Gospel and our mission as Catholics.
Also, this week, please pray for me as I head off to Rome for the Synod of Bishops on the Family. Please pray for the synod and that our world rediscover the beauty of the family in God’s plan for humanity.
And let’s ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, who guided the first mission to the Americas, to inspire us to a new continental mission, to live the way Jesus teaches us to live and to serve God and one another with love and mercy.