September 26, 2015 // Uncategorized

Pope Francis in Philadelphia

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Pope urges U.S. Catholics to keep enthusiasm, welcome newcomers

By David Agren

Pope Francis waves from the steps as he boards an American Airlines jetliner at Philadelphia International Airport Sept. 27 for his return to Rome following a six-day apostolic visit to the U.S. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pope Francis ended his trip to the United States with a call for Catholics to keep the enthusiasm of the visit, while continuing to welcome newcomers and care for creation.

“Do not let your enthusiasm for Jesus, his church, our families, and the broader family of society run dry,” Pope Francis said at Philadelphia International Airport, prior to flying back to Rome. “I pray that our days of prayer and reflection on the importance of the family for a healthy society will inspire families to continue to strive for holiness and to see the church as their constant companion, whatever the challenges they may face.”

In just over five full days in the U.S., Pope Francis reaffirmed the importance of church and family life, pleaded for inclusive attitudes toward immigrants, reiterated the right of religious freedom and called for action on climate change and care for creation.

The trip reaffirmed the pope’s enormous popularity with Catholics and non-Catholics alike as large crowds convened — even with tight security — while media coverage was comprehensive.

Pope Francis, who met again with Vice President Joe Biden just prior to leaving Sept. 27, acknowledged the warmth of the welcome in his final remarks.

“Your care for me and your generous welcome are a sign of your love for Jesus and your faithfulness to him. So, too, is your care for the poor, the sick, the homeless and the immigrant, your defense of life at every stage, and your concern for family life,” Pope Francis said. “In all of this, you recognize that Jesus is in your midst and that your care for one another is care for Jesus himself.”

The pope visited Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families. He delighted droves of well-wishers with an off-the-cuff speech on family life. At Independence Hall, he spoke in Spanish on respect for religious freedom and urged immigrant communities — and all Americans — to remember their roots and embrace diversity.

“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he said.

Pope Francis also stopped in New York, where he visited a Catholic school in Harlem, addressed the U.N. General Assembly and led a multireligious gathering at ground zero — a “place which speaks so powerfully of the mystery of evil.”

“We know with certainty that evil never has the last word,” Pope Francis said. “In God’s merciful plan, love and peace triumph over all.”

In Washington, the pope addressed a joint meeting of Congress, visited later with the homeless and canonized St. Junipero Serra, “who reminds us all of our call to be missionary disciples.”

The visit involved political and pastoral aspects. Pope Francis arrived first in Cuba, having helped the decades-long estrangement between the communist country and the United States.

In the United States, his speech to Congress was widely watched and touched on topics such protecting life in all its stages, religious liberty and acting against climate change. He touched on his environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si'” again in his parting remarks.

“This land has been blessed with tremendous gifts and opportunities,” the pope said. “I pray that you may all be good and generous stewards of the human and material resources entrusted to you.”

His message of unity, kindness and caring captured Catholics and non-Catholics alike — especially in Philadelphia — though it was criticized as un-American in some conservative circles.

“He’s bringing a sense of unity that I’ve not seen here,” said Rodney Barnes, a social work student and non-Catholic attending the papal Mass in Philadelphia.

“The biggest thing for me (in this message) was the small things in life that you can do for each other every days,” said Rona Iredale, whose family saw the Mass from a rooftop bar.

“I’m not very religious, but it was very moving,” said Iredale’s daughter Hannah, 16, who found much to like about the pope. “He’s just a chill guy and I agree with his views.”

The exact impact of the visit remains to be seen, though early signs are promising.

“In terms of articulating his message and generating enthusiasm and connecting with Americans, it was a tremendous success,” said Andrew Chesnut, religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Only time will tell if there’s lasting impact in terms of more parishioners in the pews and a new spirit of partisan cooperation for the common good.”

In his final speech, as in some other, Pope Francis ended with the words, “God Bless America.”


Serve, care for each other, pope tells families at closing Mass

By Dennis Sadowski

Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he makes his way to celebrate the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Matt Rourke, pool)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pope Francis urged the hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families to serve and care for each other as freely as God loves the human family.

The pope called upon the faithful to embrace signs that the Holy Spirit can work through everyone. He referred to the readings in the multilingual Mass — from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel of Mark — in which members of the faith community questioned the work of those not part of their group and for prophesying in the name of God.

“To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group,’ who are not ‘like us,’ is a dangerous temptation,” the pope said. “Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith. Faith opens a window to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.”

Illustrating his point before the Mass, Pope Francis engaged in “little gestures” himself along the papal parade route to the Mass, kissing and blessing many babies brought to him from the sidewalk throngs by Secret Service agents, who themselves managed to cracked smiles after days of maintaining a stern demeanor as they guarded the pontiff.

Pope Francis recalled that Jesus encountered “hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did,” saying they thought it intolerable that Christ was open to honest and sincere faith from men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people.

“The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected,” he said.

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing ‘scandal’ are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly ‘intolerable’ scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit,” he continued.

Pope Francis held up the family as vital to building the church for the future. He said love must be freely shared for faith to grow.

“That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith,” he said.

“Little gestures” of love exist daily in the lives of family and serve to carry on God’s love as well, Pope Francis explained.

“These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family. They get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion,” he said.

“Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”

Pope Francis asked the worshipers to consider how they share God’s love with people in their families and in the world around them.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?” he asked, referencing a line in his encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.”

“Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions,” he continued. “The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together in the pursuit of a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”

The pope asked the congregation to consider how they treat each other in their own home. “Do we shout or do we speak to each other with love and tenderness? That’s a good way of measuring our love.”

Calling the church to renew faith in the word of God, the pope said people can live prophetic lives as a “kind of miracle in today’s world.”

“Would that we could all be prophets. Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love for the sake of all the families of the world, and thus overcome the scandal of a narrow, petty love, closed in on itself, impatient of others,” he said.

As the Mass concluded, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who also was lead Vatican organizer of the World Meeting of Families, announced the next meeting will take place in Dublin, in 2018.

Six families, representing five continents, received copies of the Gospel of Luke. Families from Syria, Vietnam, France, Australia, Congo and Cuba were chosen for their church involvement and faith life. The Vatican also planned to distribute 100,000 copies of Luke’s Gospel in the families’ home countries.


Religious freedom a running theme through papal remarks, says archbishop

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — The theme of religious freedom ran through Pope Francis’ remarks at several stops during his historic trip to the United States, not just at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori.

“It’s interesting how many times the Holy Father spoke about religious freedom,” the archbishop said, noting he first spoke of it at the White House, then in his address to a joint meeting of Congress and finally in Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall, the iconic symbol of the nation’s principles of freedom.

“He spoke about religious freedom as integral to a transcendent human dignity … as a fundamental good in society,” Archbishop Lori told Catholic News Service in a phone interview Sept. 26 as the Festival of Families that evening was getting underway. “He spoke of it as a universal right that belongs to all people. He also framed it as an immense good.”

The archbishop made the comments as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

“Religious freedom enables individuals in church and community to (work) for the common good of society,” the prelate continued, “and he spoke about obligation of government to protect and foster religious liberty as a God-given right. Especially important is the way he linked it to not only worship but also to service to the poor, the needy and the vulnerable.”

At the White House Sept. 23, his first full day in the U.S., Pope Francis noted Americans’ concern that “efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”

He told Congress Sept. 24 that “a nation can be considered great when it defends liberty.” In Philadelphia, he said when a government respects the right of its citizens to profess their faith freely and to live it publicly, the whole society benefits.

Following his remarks at Independence Mall, some commentators pointed out Pope Francis made no specific reference to the U.S. Catholic Church’s fight against the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers, including religious ones, provide free contraceptive coverage in employee health plans even if the employer has moral objections to do so. Lawsuits challenging the mandate argue it violates religious freedom.

Archbishop Lori said the U.S. bishops had no expectation Pope Francis would “address directly any specific law or regulation.”

“We expected the Holy Father to express the social teaching of the church, which includes religious freedom, and to do so in his own style,” he told CNS, but added that the pope “did in a way address it” — with his unexpected visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington after the Serra canonization Sept. 23.

A lawsuit against the mandate led by the Little Sisters has been winding its way through the courts. The latest action in the suit came Aug. 21 when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary reprieve to the religious order until the Supreme Court rules on the case, protecting the sisters from having to pay fines for not implementing the mandate.

Asked how he thinks Americans are reacting to Pope Francis, Archbishop Lori said, “First of all the crowds are tremendous. I went from Independence Hall to the Festival of Families and the crowds were thick lining the streets, very deep. As we rode by, they were terrifically enthusiastic, waving at busloads of bishops (even). This is really an enthusiastic crowd. I thought to myself it was really wonderful.”

Besides Philadelphia, Archbishop Lori was in Washington for the papal events there.

“I think people love him because he’s first of all he’s a person who is very human and humane,” the archbishop said. “They understand he cares about them, he wants to link them to God and that he really lives the faith he professes,” the archbishop said. “And I think we’re hungry, starved for leaders on the world stage who are like that and in many ways I think he stands out as unique in today’s world.”


Visiting prison, pope says all people need forgiveness, cleansing

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis blesses a prisoner as he visits the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia Sept. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — While pilgrims in Philadelphia put up with a long weekend of lines and security checks at the papal venues, the pope reached out to a group of people whose lives are lines and security checks for years at a time.

Pope Francis spent about an hour at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He entered the gymnasium from behind a blue curtain, walking up on to the small stage and carefully inspecting the large chair the inmates had made for him. He turned, with a big smile across his face, and gave the inmates a sincere Pope Francis thumbs up.

As the U.S. debates the need for penal reform, Pope Francis said prisons must focus on rehabilitation, and he insisted that no one is perfect and without need of forgiveness. While his speech was addressed primarily to the inmates, a small group of their family members, prison officials, state legislators and city officials, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, also attended.

About 20 minutes before the pope arrived — ahead of schedule — Nutter greeted each of the inmates, who were wearing dark slacks and light blue scrubs, as they were led into the gym. Michele Farrell, prison warden, later told Catholic News Service that the pope “threw us a curveball by showing up early.”

The inmates were told to stay seated, and reporters, who were behind them, were told they could not speak to the inmates until after the pope left.

Deacon Ed Dymek, who ministers at the prison, told CNS, “There’s pope hope.”

The prisoners, who were chosen from among those with records for the best behavior, “are as excited as can be,” Deacon Dymek said. “This visit is hopefully inspiration for them to lead better lives.”

Pope Francis addressed the inmates in Spanish, “not English because I do not speak it well.” However, he said, his aide, Msgr. Mark Miles from the Vatican Secretariat of State, “does” speak well.

The pope also told the inmates he was visiting as a pastor, “but mostly as a brother.”

Serving time in prison is a painful time, said the pope, who continues to speak on the telephone with inmates he used to visit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Any society, any family, which cannot share or take seriously the pain of its children and views that pain as something normal or to be expected, is a society ‘condemned’ to remain a hostage to itself, prey to the very things which cause that pain.”

Pope Francis insisted Jesus “teaches us to see the world through his eyes — eyes which are not scandalized by the dust picked up along the way, but want to cleanse, heal and restore. He asks us to create new opportunities: for inmates, for their families, for correctional authorities, and for society as a whole.”

The pope spoke to the inmates about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, explaining that back in those days, people wore sandals and the roads were dusty. Everyone needed to have his or her feet cleaned. Often there were pebbles and stones, too, which hurt.

“Life is a journey, along different roads, different paths, which leave their mark on us,” the pope said. “We know in faith that Jesus seeks us out. He wants to heal our wounds, to soothe our feet, which hurt from traveling alone, to wash each of us clean of the dust from our journey.”

Jesus, the pope said, “doesn’t ask us where we have been, he doesn’t question us what about we have done.” Instead, Jesus washes peoples’ feet and gives them life.

“The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand,” the pope said. “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.

“It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society,” Pope Francis continued.

The pope urged the prisoners to dedicate their time in prison to “getting back on the right road” and preparing to rejoin society.

After the pope left, Heriberto Mejia, a prisoner who uses a wheelchair, told CNS he asked the pope to pray for him.

“I feel so good. God has changed my heart,” said Mejia, who is awaiting trial on drug charges. “After this visit, we have to have to do better. … We can’t go back to doing things the same way.”

Dechon Adams, who was charged with a weapons offense, called it “beautiful” that the pope took the time to greet each prisoner — 11 women and close to 60 men — and offer his blessing.

Adams, who identified himself as Christian, agreed with Pope Francis’ explanation of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet.

“We all need cleansing,” Adams said.

After 19 months in prison, the 23-year-old said the experience has been tough on both him and his family, though he’s found solace in faith.

“It’s harder for my family than me. It’s hard for them to see me like this,” he said.

“This is the most time that I’ve had to reflect and pray … get close to Jesus,” Adams said. “That’s all you can do.”

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Contributing to this story was David Agren.

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Follow on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden @el_reportero

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A video to accompany this story can be found at



Pope meets with clergy abuse victims, says crimes can’t be secret

By David Sedeno

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pope Francis met with a group of victims of sexual abuse Sept. 27 and later told bishops that he was overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and was committed to holding accountable those who harmed children.

In a meeting with cardinals, bishops, priests and seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo, the pope prefaced his address on the importance of the family by saying that he had met with the group as arranged by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. The Vatican said the 30-minute meeting, with three women and two men abused by members of the clergy or their families or their teachers, was held at the seminary shortly before the pope addressed the bishops.

“It is engraved in my heart, the stories, suffering and pain of the children abused by priests,” the pope said. “I continue to feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment because of those who had in their care the little ones and caused them great harm.

“I am deeply sorry. God cries,” he said.

He said that “the crimes and sin of sexual abuse of children can no longer remain secret” and that he “committed the close vigilance of the church to protect the children, and I promise that all responsible will be held accountable.”

In his earlier meetings with bishops during his six-day U.S. visit, he told them that he continued to be hurt by news of sexual abuse of children and wanted them to be more vigilant.

For years, the Philadelphia Archdiocese has been rocked by years of sexual abuse by priests and has sold church-owned properties and scaled back ministries to settle claims. Earlier this year, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, resigned after being the first bishop convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report to authorities the sexual abuse of children by a priest.

In 2014, Pope Francis met in Rome with victims of sexual abuse by clergy. However, many groups, including members of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or SNAP, continue to be critical of the Vatican and claim it has not done enough for the victims.

In his private meeting at the seminary, Pope Francis told the victims that they were a hope of inspiration and “ministers of mercy.” He also prayed with them and said he shared their pain, suffering and shame.

“We owe each of them and their families a gratitude for their great courage to bring the light of Christ of the sexual abuse of children,” he told the bishops.

In his address on the importance of the family, Pope Francis challenged the bishops to provide more pastoral leadership and guidance in a “consumerism” culture and to encourage young people to opt for marriage and family despite challenges that keep many from the sacrament.

His speech at the seminary came about 12 hours after a star-studded Festival of Families celebration that showcased the importance of the family. In unscripted remarks at the festival, Pope Francis said the institution of marriage, despite its many challenges, should continue to be protected.

“Without the family, not even the church would exist. Nor could she be what she is called to be, namely ‘a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race,'” the pope said, quoting “Lumen Gentium,” the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

“Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural — and now juridical — effects on family bonds,” the pope said.

As the number of marriages decline and more and more states across the country legalize same-sex marriage, the pope said the consumerism culture allows people to follow the latest trends, and their loneliness discourages establishments of close bonds and the devouring of everything, including religion, until the next fad.

“Today, consumerism determines what is important,” the pope said. “Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming … whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.'”

As he had done on several occasions during his U.S. visit to the United States, the pope challenged the bishops to do more to help refortify the family, especially the young people, the future of the church.

“Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence,” he said. “Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full.

“We need to invest our energies not so much in rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity, but in extending a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family,” he said.

Pope Francis said that priests give up a family to care for a larger one in an effort to bring them closer to God.

“Our ministry needs to deepen the covenant between the church and the family,” he said. “Otherwise it becomes arid, and the human family will grow irremediably distant, by our own fault, from God’s joyful good news.”

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Contributing to this story was Laura Ieraci.



Pope delights Philly crowd with spontaneous talk on families

By Laura Ieraci

Pope Francis listens to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sing the Our Father at the Festival of Families during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pope Francis threw away a prepared text and, to the delight of tens of thousands of people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, spoke from the heart about the challenges and love that come with being part of a family.

After listening to testimony from six families from various continents Sept. 26, he thanked them for sharing their stories.

“A witness given in order to serve is thoroughly good, it makes us good persons, because God is goodness,” he began, continuing to increase in speed and emphasis to the delight of the crowd. He smiled, gestured with his hands and the crowd cheered as he said it was “worth being a family.”

God sent his son into a family, he said, “and he could do this because it was a family that had a truly open heart,” he said.

The pope spoke in Spanish, the language in which he is most comfortable; his talk was translated by Msgr. Mark Miles.

“We are celebrating the feast of the family,” he told the crowd. “Families have a citizenship that is divine. The identity card that they have is given to them by God so that within the heart of the family truth, goodness and beauty can truly grow.”

“Some of you might say of course, Father, you speak like that because you’re not married,” he said.

“Families have difficulties. Families — we quarrel, sometimes plates can fly, and children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother-in-laws,” he quipped.

“However, in families, there is always light” because of the love of God’s son.

“Just as there are problems in families, there is the light of the resurrection,” he said.

“The family is like a factory of hope,” he said.

“In the family, there are indeed difficulties” and children bring challenges, too, he said.

“But those difficulties are overcome with love,” he said. “Hatred is not capable of dealing (with) or overcoming any difficulty. Division of hearts cannot overcome a difficulty; only love can overcome.”

The three-hour celebration of Catholic family life began as the sun started to set over Philadelphia. The festival included prayer, music, dance, comedy and testimonies of faith and followed on the heels of the eighth World Meeting of Families Sept. 22-25.

Shortly after 7 p.m. the pope began his approach to the festival site in his popemobile, waving to the thousands of people who lined the route. Dozens of flags and banners of different countries hung over steel barricades lining the route into Benjamin Franklin Parkway toward the Festival of Families stage. He mounted the festival stage to raucous cheers, shortly after 7:30 p.m., and led the crowd in a prayer of petition for the family.

Actor Mark Wahlberg emceed the portion of the evening featuring the pope. Among the renowned entertainers to perform for the pope and offer testimonies of faith were American soul singer Aretha Franklin and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla read a letter her mother, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, had penned to her father, bearing witness to their faithful marriage. Six couples from different continents also shared their life stories.

The night before the festival began, people began gathering behind barricades on downtown streets, many sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes and donning Pope Francis T-shirts, World Meeting of Families caps or apparel from their home parishes. Those with tickets started to enter the heavily secured area in the early afternoon, including numerous priests, seminarians and women religious, who sat under a canopy of trees in the cool breeze watching performers practice before the celebration.

Mother Joan Paul of the School Sisters of Christ the King in Lincoln, Nebraska, brought four sisters with her to the World Meeting of Families and to see the pope.

“The Holy Father is someone who I want to be near. I am near him in his thoughts every day, but I wanted to be here physically,” she said. “And for us to be here with families also is important because our families are being pulled so many different directions because of society, and we need to reconnect and come back to our important values.”

In his talk, the pope noted the challenges families face, including quarrels and inimical relationships.

“Never let the day end without making peace,” he said. “A society is strong, it’s solid if it’s edified on beauty, goodness and truth.”

He told those present that God likes most “to knock on the doors of families and to find families that are united, that love each other” and who raise their children in view of creating “a society of truth, goodness and beauty.”

The family must take special care of children and grandparents, he said. Children are “the strength that moves us forward” and “grandparents are the living memory of the family. They pass on the faith; they transmitted the faith to us.”

“To look after grandparents and children is an expression of love,” he said. “A people that does not know how to look after children and grandparents is a people that has no future because it does not have the strength or the memory to go forward.”

Jay and Tracie Ciccarone, members of St. Katharine of Siena Catholic Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania, brought their four pre-teen boys — Wylder, Truitt, Tommy and David — to the festival.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for them,” Tracie Ciccarone said before the pope spoke. “We wanted to do it together because it is all about the family.

“It is all about making memories and having something to look back to,” she said.

Steve Giuliano, who is not Catholic, received tickets to the festival for in-kind services he and his employer provided for the pope’s visit.

He said his mother was among numerous area residents who left the city for the weekend, fearing gridlock and chaos, and many business owners had blamed loss of income to the street closures. But he said that the pope’s visit was good for everyone.

“He is bringing so many people back to the Catholic Church,” he said. “He is a great leader for the church, no matter your religion.”

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Contributing to this story was David Sedeno.


‘Let freedom ring!’ Respect for rights helps society, pope says

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis gives an address from Independence Hall in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Not far from where the Liberty Bell is on display, Pope Francis urged the people of the United States to continue to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” as the bell’s inscription says.

Meeting Sept. 26 with members of the Hispanic community and immigrants at Independence National Historical Park, the pope said when governments respect human rights and freedoms, especially the right to religious liberty, they benefit from their citizens’ respect and care for others.

The “ringing words” of the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaiming the equality of all men and women and their being endowed by their creator with “inalienable rights” continue to inspire people in the United States and around the world, the Argentina-born pope said.

But even such powerful words can ring hollow if they are not “constantly reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended,” the pope said.

In a speech punctuated by off-the-cuff comments and explanations, Pope Francis urged immigrant communities in the United States to be “responsible citizens” of their new home without being ashamed of or hiding their cultural heritage.

Asking forgiveness for speaking in the language of geometry, the pope told the crowd that globalization is bad if it tries to erase all differences, placing everyone in sphere equally distant from one another and the center, but it is good if it respects differences, which are like the varied sides of a polyhedron.

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is held up as crowds gather at Independence Mall, where Pope Francis will talk about immigration and religious freedom to an estimated crowd of 50,000, in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston)

Speaking from the same lectern President Abraham Lincoln used for the Gettysburg address, Pope Francis said the history of the United States is in many ways a history of progressively trying to live out the values affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. As examples, he cited the eventual abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of labor unions “and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice.”

When a government respects the right of its citizens to profess freely their faith and to live it publicly, the whole society benefits, the pope said.

Religions, he said, “call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good and compassion for those in need.”

The religious dimension of a people’s life, he said, “is not a subculture. It is part of the culture of any people of any nation.”

The Quakers who founded Philadelphia, he said, “were inspired by a profound evangelical sense of the dignity of each individual and the ideal of a community united by brotherly love.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that as the pope was heading in a helicopter from Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport for his flight that day to Philadelphia, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan asked the pilot to circle the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island so the pope could see them.

At the Philadelphia gathering, Pope Francis said concern for the dignity of all, “especially the weak and the vulnerable, became an essential part of the American spirit.”

The pope used his speech “to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant.”

Those who stand up for the poor and the immigrant, he said, “remind American democracy of the ideals for which it was founded, and that society is weakened whenever and wherever injustice prevails.”

Dozens of cardinals and bishops attended the event as well. But Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, tweeted that they did not have their customary reserved seats up front and instead were “learning to live on the ‘periphery,'” a favorite term of Pope Francis. Being in the crowd, the bishop added, offered a “better perspective.”

Turning to the representatives of the Hispanic and immigrant communities present gathered at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, Pope Francis said he knows the sacrifice and struggles many of them faced as they sought to build a better life for themselves and their families in the United States.

And while they may have been in need when they arrived, he said, they also must remember that their experiences and cultures also are a gift that can enrich their new home, just as the heritage of previous waves of immigrants over the centuries did.

“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” the pope told them. “I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your life blood.”

A vibrant faith and a strong family life are particularly important gifts to share, he said. “By contributing your gifts, you will not only find your place here, you will help to renew society from within.”

Before leaving Independence Mall, Pope Francis — repeating a section he had read early in this speech — told the people, “Don’t forget what happened here more than two centuries ago. Don’t forget the declaration that proclaimed that all men and women were created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”

“May we keep freedom, may we care for freedom — freedom of conscious, religious freedom,” he said, and may all the people of the United States express “gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy.”

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Contributing to this story were David Agren, Rhina Guidos and Philippe Vaillancourt in Philadelphia.


Pope challenges religious to create ministries that inspire young people

By Dennis Sadowski

Pope Francis raises the chalice of the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass with representatives from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pope Francis encouraged Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy and women and men religious to challenge young people to develop “high ideals, generosity of spirit and love for Christ and the church.”

In his first Mass in Philadelphia, Pope Francis recalled St. Katherine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who entered religious life, formed a religious community and used her family inheritance to educate blacks and native Americans throughout the U.S. after Pope Leo XIII had challenged her to serve the church by asking, “What about you?”

The pope posed the same question repeatedly to the audience of 1,500 that included more than 300 priests and 160 deacons in the main Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peters and Paul Sept. 26. Another 500 people in religious life attended in an overflow chapel at the cathedral.

“Do we challenge them?” Pope Francis asked in reference to efforts to involve young people in church life. “Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?”

Pope Francis called for creativity in ministry to inspire people to maintain ties with the church.

Studies have shown that American young adults have turned from involvement in the church and Mass attendance even as they have gained a greater awareness of the need to address social ills. The pope’s homily appealed to the audience to seek new ways to boost the presence of young people in church ministries and activities.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass with representatives from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“One of the great challenges facing the church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the church’s mission and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world,” he said.

“This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life,” he said.

Acknowledging that society is undergoing rapid change, the pope said the times call for “much more active engagement on the part of the laity.”

The pontiff credited the U.S. church for its effort to catechize and educate laypeople and said that today’s challenge facing the church is to build on that work and to foster a “sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions.”

“This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the church,” Pope Francis said. “In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.”

He encouraged those gathered to recall the joy they experienced in their “first encounter with Jesus” and to draw from that joy renewed strength to carry out the work of the church.

Pointing to the World Meeting of Families that concluded Sept. 25 in Philadelphia, the pope asked those in religious life to reflect on their ministry to families, couples preparing for marriage and to young people.

“I know how much is being done in your local churches to respond to the needs of families and to support them in their journey of faith. I ask you to pray fervently for them, and for the deliberations of the forthcoming synod on the Family.”

The worldwide Synod of Bishops on the family meets at the Vatican Oct. 4-25.

Pope Francis concluded his homily at the multilingual Mass by asking the congregation to pray to Mary so that she may intercede for the continued growth of the church in the U.S. “in prophetic witness” to Jesus’ crucifixion.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @dennissadowski

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A video to accompany this story can be found at


Grotto highlights needs of poor, image of Mary as ‘Undoer of Knots’

By Elizabeth Fisher


People place prayer ribbons at the Knotted Grotto outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul during the World Meeting of Families Sept. 25 in Philadelphia. Thousands of visitors added their prayer intentions to the project that was inspired by the image of Mary Undoer of Knots. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — In front of Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul stands a visible representation of Pope Francis’ favorite religious image: “Mary, Undoer of Knots.”

The “Knotted Grotto” is a dome-shaped lattice-work frame that stands about 10 feet high with an approximately 20-foot circumference and features tens of thousands of white ribbons knotted into a lattice structure.

Each ribbon represents a prayer intention, which visitors may read and offer in their prayers, as well as add a new ribbon.

Above all the ribbons hangs a large portrait of Mary, the Mother of God, as one who unties the knots of people’s lives.

Project HOME, the Philadelphia organization serving homeless people in the city, has been collecting the pieces of cloth throughout the Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, regions.

Over the past several months, the group canvassed prisons, soup kitchens and workshops, collecting a total of 30,000 petitions that reflect poignant prayers for topics ranging from personal issues to social justice to health concerns.

A few examples include: “I am asking for prayers for my whole family”; “Let there be food for all … bountiful food for all”; “More faith in God and more belief in God’s love”; “For school communities, that students, teachers/professors can come together and share school pride and values.”

One prison inmate penned his hope to be free of addiction and be able to make a life for himself once released. Some petitioners asked for healing from anxiety or cancer, or other physical and mental disorders.

Project HOME commissioned artist Meg Saligman to create the grotto to help draw attention to those in need, especially members of society for whom Pope Francis focuses much of his concern.

“We invited Meg to create this work of art so that people will be moved to acknowledge a higher power and to also acknowledge the power within themselves to act,” said Mercy Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME. “We need God’s grace to untie the knots.”

At a Sept. 3 dedication of the grotto, Father Dennis Gill, rector of the cathedral, led prayers and Imam Abdul-Aleem, of the Masjidullah Mosque in Philadelphia, delivered remarks.

Members of Project HOME — wearing yellow T-shirts with blue lettering that said, “Act With Mercy, Seek Justice” — were scattered throughout the crowd asking those who attended to sign petitions that will be sent to Congress to urge lawmakers to act in a bipartisan fashion to alleviate homelessness and hunger.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, told the crowd that she and her co-workers watched the progress of the artwork installation from her office. She said that helping the poor was a priority for both Pope Francis and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

“As I look at the thousands of knots in this grotto, it just takes your breath away,” she said. “Each of these knots represents the hopes and prayers of the people. It is incredibly moving. People from around the world will be able to share in the artwork” during the World Meeting and the papal visit, Farrell said.

Imam Abdul-Aleem said after the ceremony that his mosque received funds from Project HOME that enabled him to expand his ministry of feeding people of all faiths who are in need.

During his remarks, he asked God to bless and loosen the knots that represent human struggles and prayed that the pope’s visit would be “a transformative moment in the history of mankind, a moment to undo the knots of racism, classism and sexism that kept many people at arms-length of society.”

“True religion is not rituals,” he said. “True religion is a recognition of God’s grace, but also the power we each have within us to make a difference.”

In honor of the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, Project HOME established the Francis Fund to collect money to provide to other organizations to alleviate hunger, poverty and homelessness in Philadelphia and Camden. Its goal is to raise $4 million; by early September it had collected $2 million.

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Fisher writes for, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Contributing to this story was Matthew Gambino, the site’s director and general manager.

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A related video has been posted at



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