Francis preaches inclusion, mission of love in his first trip to the United States

Catholic University of America shuts down to welcome Pope Francis as it hosts the Canonization Mass of Juniper Serra.

Catholic University of America shuts down to welcome Pope Francis as it hosts the Canonization Mass of Juniper Serra. Photo by CJ Gates/Editor-in-Chief

 

By CJ Gates and Kyle Ferrara
Editor-in-Chief and Features Editor

Twenty-five thousand people gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate at Catholic University of America to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis on Wednesday, 23 Sept. Earlier that day, 20,000 others stood outside the White House to hear his opening address on his trip to the United States. Thousands more packed the sidewalks of Constitution Ave. to see him drive by in the Popemobile. The entirety of the United States’ capitol shut down to welcome the leader of the Catholic Church.

The day’s main event was the Canonization Mass of Father Juníper Serra, who became the first Hispanic saint recognized by the Church. While the Mass, said entirely in Spanish, primarily honored Father Serra, the pope used his homily to deliver a challenge to his massive audience.

“We don’t want apathy to guide our lives. . .or do we?” he asked. “We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life. . .or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized? How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives?­­”

The pontiff challenged Catholics to “go out to people of every nation!

“Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim. . .of a loving Father.”

In delivering his homily, Francis was considering a mostly Catholic audience, but throughout his stay in Washington, D.C., he took opportunities to speak to all people of the United States, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Prior to arriving at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Francis met with President Obama, who is Protestant, at the White House for a welcoming ceremony and immediately addressed one of the core issues of the current political climate in America: immigration.

“As the son of an immigrant family,” Francis said, “I am happy to be a guest in this country which was largely built by such families.”

The pontiff’s words set the tone for Thursday morning when the he addressed a Joint Session of Congress. He made reference to the thousands of immigrants coming north into the United States from Mexico who are “in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

We must not commit the same sins and errors of the past, Francis added in reference to the way immigrants’ rights have been infringed upon in generations before. We must not turn our back on our neighbors, he said, before citing the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12).

Immigration wasn’t the only contentious issue that Francis touched on while in Washington. When Francis met with Obama, he also brought up the issue of climate change and caring for the environment while praising the president for the initiatives that he has introduced.

“When it comes to the care of our ‘common home’,” Francis said, “we are living at a critical moment of history” in which we can no longer leave the problem of climate change to future generations.

Quoting his own encyclical, again in front of Congress, the pope reinforced the idea that “we need a conversation which included everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Inclusion has been a major theme of Francis’ papacy. From his outreach to the LGBT community to the main tenet of this trip to the United States—“Love is our mission”—the pope has focused his two-and-a-half years on making the Catholic Church a place that is open to all that seek to be a part of it.

And this mission of love is near and dear to the hearts of the 18-24 year-old demographic, putting Catholic colleges and universities—such as Canisius—at the forefront of the discussion, according to Barbara Humphrey McCrabb, Assistant Director for Higher Education, Secretariat of Catholic Education.

“There are several reasons Francis is more appealing to the college-age demographic than his predecessors,” McCrabb said. “One is his use of technology. He [often presents] Catholic teaching via Twitter. He is willing to use all means at his disposal, especially those commonplace to young adults.”

As the pope bridges the gap between the church and the new generations of Catholics, so too must Catholic institutions of higher learning link timeless doctrines with modern rhetoric.

“How can universities instill [Catholic teaching in their students today]? By continuing to teach the guidance of the church and acknowledging the continued revelation of God in our contemporary context,” McCrabb said. “There are modern day issues that are complicated and nuanced and require a level of sophistication and understanding.”

***

Six hours before Pope Francis arrived at the Basilica for Mass, one hour before he was driven down Constitution Ave., timeserving street vendors positioned themselves around the National Mall to take advantage of the papal mania. They sold gaudy t-shirts, overpriced buttons, shoddy necklaces, and pictures of a cardboard cutout of Francis. But among the opportunistic merchandisers stood a street performer, riffing on his guitar a familiar tune. He sang:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

The bard’s voice overtook the shouting of the merchants. It drove their peddling outcries out of the National Mall, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.

Francis is not a pope of merchandise. He is a pope who wants to turn the people of his church into pillars of a universal truth, into pillars of support for the poor and the marginalized, the weak and the lonely. This idea is not new to Catholicism, but Francis is making it a central message. And this message is at the heart of all other statements he so far has made to Americans, Catholic or otherwise. While present-day issues are complicated and do require sophistication, as McCrabb suggests, his imperative to members of the Catholic church is simple. It is to say to the underprivileged:

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear

That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road

I’ll share your load.

Pope Francis continues his visit to the United States in New York on Friday and in Philadelphia on Saturday before departing on Sunday, 27 Sept.

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