Next week, Pope Francis makes a private pilgrimage to Assisi.
He is going to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Our Lord’s appearance to St. Francis in the little chapel he called Portiuncula. While praying there on Aug. 1, 1216, Francis saw Jesus Christ and Our Blessed Mother Mary in heaven in the midst of a cloud of angels.
This anniversary has special meaning here in Los Angeles, too.
Our city was founded by Franciscan missionaries and was named originally for this chapel where St. Francis received his vision — El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula (“The Town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula”).
This city of the angels is a city of saints. In my prayer during these summer days, I have been reflecting on this fact.
In the places where we walk, so many saints have walked! There are saints whose names we know — St. Francis Cabrini, St. John Paul II, soon-to-be St. Mother Teresa. And of course, St. Junípero Serra, the spiritual father of our city.
But there are many others who have visited Los Angeles or made their home here for a time. The names of Dorothy Day, Blessed Maria Inés Teresa, Venerable María Luisa Josefa (“Mother Luisita”) and Blessed Irmã Dulce Pontes, come to mind.
Saints are not “extraterrestrials” who come down from space to dwell among us.
One of the challenges of living and witnessing in a secular society is that traditional religious language and concepts — such as holiness, sanctity, self-sacrifice — are made to seem extreme, impossible or other-worldly.
But God calls all of us — all of us — to the beauty of his own holiness. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to show us the way. And that “way” is a path that leads us into the heart of the city, into the midst of the world, with all its problems and joys.
When we read the lives and the words of the saints, we understand that they are “realists” deeply engaged in the realities of their times and their societies.
The other day I was reading about St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s time in Los Angeles in the first years of the 20th century.
In her journal and letters, she gives us beautiful descriptions of the land and the people. But she also saw the deep divide between the worlds of the rich and poor and the struggles of ordinary people, especially newly-arrived immigrants from Italy and Mexico.
At times, she sounds like she is writing today: “The city of Los Angeles is widespread and seems to grow recklessly. Property is very expensive.”
Being a saint, of course, does not necessarily mean always having right judgments on political or social questions.
The point is that to be a Christian means we believe that Jesus shows us the way to God. It means we are committed to making Jesus the path for our lives and trying to see the world with his eyes and to live as he would have us live.
And being a Christian also gives our lives a mission. We are called to help others to find Jesus and follow his path to holiness, happiness and God.
“Evangelization” is another word that is hard to understand in a secularized society. But evangelization is our daily Christian responsibility. We are called to live with the kind of everyday compassion and care for others that enables them to see the great love that God has for every one of us.
As he laid face down on that chapel floor 800 years ago, St. Francis asked Jesus to grant forgiveness from the punishment of sin to everyone who makes a pilgrimage to Portiuncula. The event came to be known as the “Pardon of Assisi.”
In this Year of Mercy, we all have access to the great gift of our Father’s pardon — through the “plenary indulgence” granted for visiting one of the special pilgrimage churches in the archdiocese. I urge all of you to visit our SeekMercy.org website and to find a pilgrimage church.
In this summer where we have seen so much tension and unrest and bloodshed, let us make this city named for the Portiuncula a place where we pray for pardon and peace — for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our world.
While Pope Francis is in Assisi next week, here in Los Angeles we will be holding our second annual “City of Saints” gathering for teens and young adults. I hope to see many of you there. This is a time to be inspired, a time for remembering that our city was founded by saints and we have a vocation to be saints and to lead others to be saints, too.
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And let us ask Our Lady Queen of the Angels to help us all to seek the mercy of God in our own lives and show his mercy to others.