On the final leg of his Apostolic Visit to the United States, the Pope arrived in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
Following his arrival from New York City, the Holy Father made his way to Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral for a Mass with the priests and religious men and women of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
In his homily, the Pope reflected on the Catholic history of the city and one of their saints: St. Katharine Drexel. God’s presence, he said, can be clearly seen in that legacy.
“It is seen in the efforts of all those dedicated priests, religious and laity who for over two centuries have ministered to the spiritual needs of the poor, the immigrant, the sick and those in prison,” he said. “And it is seen in the hundreds of schools where religious brothers and sisters trained children to read and write, to love God and neighbor, and to contribute as good citizens to the life of American society.”
The Jesuit Pope recalled the story of Saint Katharine Drexel’s meeting with then-Pope Leo XIII, in which she spoke to him about the need of the missions.
“What about you? What are you going to do?” Pope Leo XIII asked her.
The Holy Father reflected on those words which impacted Saint Katharine’s life and her own personal mission.
“Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church,” he said.
Recalling his predecessor’s words to the American saint, the Pope spoke on the influence those words had on her personal calling and mission. Those words, he said, are a challenge, particularly for young people, to do their part for Christ and the Church.
“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.”
The second aspect of Pope Leo XIII’s words, he said, was its impact on a lay woman, which made her reflect and ultimately decide her vocation to religious life.
The Pope stressed the need for an active participation of the laity to ensure the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society. He called on the Church in the United States to build on the foundations of education and catechesis in a spirit of collaboration with the laity.
“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,” he 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.”
Concluding his homily, the Pope encouraged the clergy and religious of Philadelphia and called on them to remember their first encounter with Christ. With the World Meeting of Families in mind, Pope Francis also asked them to reflect on their ministry to families, especially engaged couples and youth.
“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,” he said.