Reflections on a visit of great inspiration and hope

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BishopSwainby Bishop Paul J. Swain10/29/2015

The recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States was one of great inspiration and hope. The full impact of his words and symbolic actions will take time to be fully appreciated. Among the powerful moments were the interreligious prayer service at Ground Zero in New York and his visits with the students, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the families from over 100 countries who gathered for the World Meeting of Families.

I was privileged to represent you at six events which the Pope addressed. They included a prayer service with the bishops of the United States, a humbling fraternal gathering, at which the Holy Father noted that he wished to be more than a name but a presence in all parishes and dioceses throughout our country, specifically mentioning those on the plains and the prairie.

The second was at the Mass for the canonization of now Saint Junipero Serra. It was a remembrance of the missionaries who have risked their lives to share Jesus Christ with others. The Pope issued a clarion call for us all to be such missionaries of Christ beginning in our local communities now threatened by evil and relativism.

At the gracious invitation of Rep. Kristi Noem I was present in the House Chamber for the Holy Father’s address to a Joint Session of Congress. The environment was electric and the presence of the Vicar of Christ at the center was deeply moving. It was a unifying moment in a chamber that sees little unity. Let us pray that our political leaders will take to heart his call to seek the common good above narrow interests.

Another was at Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Pope called on us as a nation to go back to the roots of our founders who declared that ours is a nation endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was followed by a festival for families, at which the challenges and beauty of family life were on display, clearly touching the Holy Father personally.

Especially meaningful to me was the gathering of bishops from around the world, many of whom live in danger and in poverty, yet are courageously resilient with trust in Christ and his Church. The Holy Father asked us to reflect on our priorities. He suggested that our job description is first to be leaders of prayer and secondly to preach the teachings of Christ. He added, if there is any time left we could attend to other matters.

Finally was the huge outdoor Mass with some 900,000 people at the close of the World Meeting on Families. Awesome was the joy, laughter and public expression of faith of so many, especially young people, who had to endure tedious security checks. One of the beautiful moments was when asked to remain silent and reflect on the Pope’s homily quiet ruled the streets. We might encourage such quiet reflection at the Masses we attend.


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