We are back from Rome! But my mind keeps returning to different moments of our beautiful pilgrimage “to the threshold” of the apostles’ tombs.
My brother bishops and I had the blessing to be able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist at the tombs of both St. Peter and St. Paul. And our weeklong “ad limina” visit for me was a profound experience of our communion with the universal Roman Catholic Church.
Saints Peter and Paul are the first pillars of our Church. Peter was “the rock” on which Jesus chose to build his Church and the shepherd he chose to feed his people. Paul was the apostle Jesus chose to lead the Church’s mission — to proclaim his Gospel to all peoples and establish his Church in all nations.
Peter and Paul shared in his passion, bearing witness to their faith in his Resurrection through the shedding of their blood. And their blood was the seed for his Church to spread from Rome to the ends of the earth. We all trace our faith back to Rome and the faith of these apostles.
Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam! (“All with Peter to Jesus through Mary!”)
I found myself praying those words from St. Josemaría Escrivá when I met our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.
When the Pope welcomed me, he told me, as he has before, that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is very important in the universal Church!
I wonder if we take that for granted. We’re not just important because we are the largest archdiocese in the United States. And we’re not important only because of Hollywood and its influence on the global culture.
We’re important because our local Church in Los Angeles is a “microcosm.” We’re a sign of what God wants his holy Catholic Church to be. One communion of cultures. One family of families — drawn from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.
We are the most diverse local Church in the world — our 5 million Catholics speak more than 40 different languages. And we are a young Church, adding members every day from all over the world.
Our Christian faith is not only an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. It is communion with him as children of God in his family, the Church.
In preparing our “ad limina” reports, we found something very striking. We compared the number of infant Baptisms here in Los Angeles with the numbers reported in the second and third largest archdioceses in our country, New York and Chicago.
In 2010, we baptized almost 77,000 infants in Los Angeles. The number of baptisms in New York and Chicago combined was 57,000.
This is a beautiful sign of hope for our Church. It’s also a sign of our great responsibility.
We need to make sure these tiny souls grow up solid in their faith in Jesus Christ. That they have strong families to support them. That they inherit a culture where human life is cherished and holiness and virtue are alive.
I come home from this pilgrimage thinking that our evangelization of culture must begin with a renewed sense of our identity as “Roman” Catholics.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all shaped in some deep way by our American culture, which itself has been shaped by the thought-worlds of Protestantism and religious individualism.
But our Christian faith is not only an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. It is communion with him as children of God in his family, the Church.
His will was to establish his Church on the foundation of the apostles and their successors, the bishops. His will was that his Church have a visible structure, a hierarchy of service, a holy priesthood and the sacraments of the faith.
Rome in the time of Jesus and his apostles was the center of the world. “All roads lead to Rome.” Then and now. His Gospel still goes out from Rome to the ends of the earth.
To be Roman Catholics means we belong to this family of God in which no one is a stranger to us. It means we share in the Church’s universal mission of spreading Christ’s words of eternal life and the joy of his salvation.
So let’s pray for one another this week. Pray that we all grow more “Roman” — more holy, more Catholic and more apostolic. Let’s have a more tender love for the Pope as our Holy Father.
Pray also for those of us who are leaders in his Church. That God will strengthen our will so that he can use us — just as he used St. Peter and St. Paul. Pray that we always grow in holiness and in our desire to sanctify others.
So let us go to Jesus closely united to Peter, through Mary. And may Mary, Queen of the Apostles, continue to sustain us in the faith that sustained St. Peter and all the apostles.