My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This article is written on the eve of the Apostolic visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. As we await his arrival from Cuba, we express our hopes that his visit to our Nation will bring about a better understanding of human dignity and the need for world peace, in particular the acceptance of refugees and immigrants.
As we know, the Holy Father’s visit began in Cuba. During that four-day trip, our own Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, a native of Cuba, was one of three American Bishops to accompany the Cuban Bishops during the Pope’s visit to that island nation.
A visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Cobre was a part of that trip. Bishop Cisneros has been very active in raising funds for the restoration of that Shrine which was badly damaged in a recent hurricane.
Our Holy Father seems to have had a lot to do with the thawing of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. This symbolic gesture brings him to the U.S. after first traveling to Cuba, visiting that island where religious liberty is slowly being restored. Recently, on Sept. 8, the Feast of Our Lady of Cobre, outdoor processions were allowed throughout the island which previously had been prohibited. Our Holy Father understands how peace is made, a little at a time with constant prayer and sacrifice.
Pope Francis will have been welcomed to the U.S. by President Obama and then have an opportunity to speak with the President at the White House. On the first day of his trip in our country, Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Pope will have met with the Bishops of the U.S. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for Mid-day Prayer, and a short discourse. Later in the day, the Holy Father was scheduled to proceed to the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where a Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra was to take place. This canonization seems to have prompted some controversy, not so much because of the person of Junipero Serra, but because of the purported mistreatment of the native populations in California. We must distinguish between the individual sanctity of Junipero Serra and the tremendous efforts on behalf of the native population and some mistreatment which certainly is not in keeping with his character.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, Pope Francis will have addressed a Joint Session of the Untied States Congress which is the first time in history that a Pope will have made such an address. It is expected that the Holy Father will have spoken in English. Two other Pontiffs who came to the U.S., Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI declined such an invitation which Pope Francis has accepted.
The intention of Pope Francis has always been to visit the marginalized and the poor, and he will have been hosted by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington for a visit with those most in need. He will have departed from Washington and arrived at Kennedy Airport the afternoon of Sept. 24 where I am to be privileged to greet the Holy Father with representatives of our diocese, as well as some public officials. We are allowed to have present a small group of representatives of Brooklyn and Queens that will have included ethnic apostolates in native dress, children from our Catholic schools, our Catholic Charities programs, and our religious communities. The Xaverian High School band will have provided some background music, as they did when Pope Benedict arrived several years ago.
Pope Francis will have immediately proceeded to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the celebration of Evening Prayer which is meant to focus on the Year of Consecrated Life. Over 200 representatives from the Diocese of Brooklyn will have been present, with most being men and women Religious who serve in Brooklyn and Queens.
On Friday, Sept. 25, the Holy Father proceeds to the UN where Pope Francis addresses the General Assembly. Hopefully, his message will be as strong as that of Pope Paul VI when he called for an end to war, “Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!” Most probably, the Holy Father also will speak about the refugee crisis that confronts our world today.
Following that address, Pope Francis will proceed to an Multi-religious Service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. Our own Auxiliary Bishop James Massa has been responsible for the preparation of this event entitled “A Witness to Peace: An Interreligious Gathering with Pope Francis,” which is being sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, with the support of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Foundation.
After lunch that day, the Holy Father will proceed to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem which is a good example of Catholic education in an inner-city. Also located at this site is an immigrant service center.
Cardinal Dolan graciously asked me to be present at this event representing my long involvement in immigrant services.
Following this event, we will proceed to Madison Square Garden, with the route going through Central Park so that many of our citizens will have an opportunity to see the Holy Father during this historic visit. The Mass at the Garden will be celebrated with approximately 18,000 persons. The Archdiocese has allocated our diocese with 1,000 tickets, as well as over 100 tickets for priest concelebrants. My own liturgical assistant, Deacon Jaime Varela, will be one of the deacons who serves the Holy Father during the Mass, and, I, myself, will be one of the principal celebrants.
Our Holy Father will depart our city from Kennedy Airport on Saturday, Sept. 26, on his way to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Along with my Auxiliary Bishops, I will be present to bid Pope Francis farewell. Again, we are permitted to have a small group of representatives of Brooklyn and Queens in attendance. These will include children from the remainder of our Catholic schools, representatives from our Catholic colleges and high schools, campus ministers, as well as Catholic Scouting.
During his time in Philadelphia, the Holy Father will also be meeting with the Bishops of the Unites States who are present during a visit to the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. The Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families will be celebrated on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with an estimated one million people.
The Holy Father is coming as a messenger of peace. As we prepare for the Synod of the Family, the World Meeting of Families is an preparatory repertory event, where families from all over the world have come to learn more about the preservation of family life which is the key to a stable civilization.
Our Holy Father has truly put out into the deep, as he comes to our hemisphere visiting Cuba and the U.S. With his strong message of compassion and mercy, Pope Francis has rightly gained the attention of the entire world. Hopefully, we as Catholics, who rightly understand his motivations, will be able to put into effect in our lives the true religious message of Pope Francis.