What It Means to Have 7M People at Mass

Pope’s US Trip Will Also Be Moment to Celebrate Grace of Christ and the Church

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Here is the latest column by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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I cannot imagine a crowd of seven million people. The number is so large, it seems almost impossible to envision. 

Seven million people is more than three times the population of Nebraska. Seven million is more than the number who live in Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming, combined. Seven million people is more than the combined populations of Chicago and Los Angeles. In fact, only one city in the United States of America—New York City—has more than seven million residents.

But last Sunday, seven million people gathered in a park in the Philippines in order to go to Mass with Pope Francis. They covered the park, and the streets around it. They spilled onto streets for miles, bringing the city to a halt. In fact, nearly the entire city was brought to its knees, in prayer, in unity with the Holy Father. 

As he celebrated Holy Mass, Pope Francis prayed that the Filipino people would “work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace.” He told them that Jesus Christ is the source of justice, integrity, and peace.

The Mass was the conclusion of a remarkable trip taken by Pope Francis. The Holy Father visited Sri Lanka, the homeland of the four beloved seminarians who have been sponsored by the Diocese of Lincoln over the past five years. While he was in Sri Lanka, the Holy Father urged peace and reconciliation to a nation that has spent 30 years in a civil war. On Jan. 14 he also canonized Joseph Vaz, the great 17th century priest-missionary to the Sri Lankan people. 

Pope Francis next traveled to the Philippines. He visited an island where 4 million people lost their homes and livelihood to a typhoon. He told families to pray together, to follow Christ together, and to resist the “ideological colonization” that replaces Catholic values with materialism and self-centeredness. He called “holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families.” 

The Holy Father spent time in Asia among the poor, among the powerful, and among the millions who traveled to pray with him. And everywhere he went, he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

His trip was a moment of unity and joy for Catholics across Asia. It was a moment to celebrate the grace of Jesus Christ and His Church.

In September, the Holy Father will travel to the United States. He will visit New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, at the World Meeting of Families, he will celebrate Holy Mass in unity with the millions of Americans who will travel to be with him. I will be among them. I pray that you will be as well. The Diocese of Lincoln has arranged the opportunity for pilgrims to travel to World Meeting of Families—to support other families, and to celebrate the grace of Christ’s Church.

There may not be seven million people in Philadelphia this September. But the Holy Father—the Vicar of Christ on earth, will be there. I will be there as well. And I pray that you will join us.

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