Everybody has something good to say to me about the Papal visit, which has made for some delightful conversations this past week. Everyone who encountered our Holy Father found some strength, joy, and love in the encounter. Regardless of what else they may have encountered – such as shamefully long and slow security processes, or rude people with bullhorns -- everybody was eager to speak about the good.
I had all sorts of fun during the visit. As you know, I love to see folks get excited about going to Mass. I also love to see our parishioners working as part of the larger Archdiocesan church to make something big and beautiful happen. This was something extraordinarily big and beautiful, and you all were very much a part of it.
Apparently we are not the only ones basking in the afterglow. Pope Francis himself, now safely at home in Rome, has been talking about the visit. His comments are both positive and enlightening. At this week’s Wednesday audience in Saint Peter’s Square, the Holy Father concluded by greeting the archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, noting his great love for the family made manifest in the organization of the event. “It is not by chance, but rather providential that … the witness of the World Meeting of Families came at this moment from the United States of America – that is, the country that during the last century reached the highest level of economic and technological development without renouncing its religious roots. Now these same roots are asking to be replanted in the family, to rethink and change the model of development, for the good of the entire human family”.
I was delighted by our Holy Father’s juxtaposition of the United States’ high level of development, both economic and technological, with its fidelity to its religious roots. These two dimensions are held by many to be contradictory or mutually exclusive, but our Holy Father sees that our nation is good evidence that this is not the case.
That must have been a welcome discovery for him. In Europe, where he lives now, the advancement in economic and technological sophistication is unquestionable, and has come simultaneously with the collapse of religion, particularly Christian faith and practice. It would be easy to conclude that this is a natural and related course of events. Add to that his experience with areas less developed technologically and economically, like much of Latin America, where he is from, and he might have been inclined to think that the religious strength he found there was aided by the developmental weakness.
Imagine his surprise to find both thriving side-by-side here in the US! The Church in our nation is alive and thriving – just ask anybody who went to Mass this summer while in a vacation area. Study after study proclaims the deterioration of faith and practice, and while that cannot be ignored, it would be wrong to think it the whole story. No doubt many people raised Catholic have failed to pass on to their children or grandchildren life in Christ. But at the same time, many lost souls have followed the light to the truth that sets them free.
Add to that a robust, widespread core of faithful souls who continue to respond to Christ’s challenge and grow in faith, even as the world around them grows in sophistication and cynicism, and you have a Church who nurtures her own while welcoming the (faith) immigrant. This is perhaps one aspect of the the gift that our national experience of Catholic faith can bring to the universal Church’s nurturing of the human family, and the families that are vital to its thriving.
That would seem to be at least part of what the Pope himself has good to say about his visit.