By Cindy Wooden
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) – Pope Francis speaks often about memory and motion, the importance of remembering where you came from and setting off without fear to share the Gospel.
That’s what he did in the United States. He circled the Statue of Liberty in a helicopter and flew over Ellis Island not preparing to condemn the world’s great superpower, but to reflect on its history and promise as a land that welcomes people, makes them part of the family and allows them to thrive.
Over the course of six days in the United States, Pope Francis let the U.S. public see who he really is with touching blessings, strong speeches, prayerful liturgies and an unplugged proclamation of the beauty of family life, even when it includes flying saucers.
With constant television coverage and a saturated social media presence, Pope Francis was no longer just the subject of screaming headlines about the evils of unbridled capitalism and a “who-am-I-to judge” attitude toward behaviors the Catholic Church describes as sinful.
Trust in God’s Mercy
Instead, he repeatedly admitted his own failures and reminded people they, too, have fallen short. He urged them to trust in God’s mercy and get a move on proclaiming that to the world – first with gestures and maybe with words.
Sin is sin even for Pope Francis. Human life is sacred at every stage of its development, and that includes the lives of convicted murders, he said during the visit. People are blessed and at their best when they are part of a family composed of a mother, a father, children and grandparents. The well-being of a nation is served by businesses and enterprises that make money, but that do not make money their god.
The pope’s proclamation of the Gospel in Washington, New York and Philadelphia Sept. 22-27 focused on reinvigorating people’s faith, hope, trust and commitment to loving God, serving others and living up to the founding ideals of the United States: equality, opportunity for all, religious liberty and the sacred dignity of every creature – human especially, but also the earth.
Pope Francis had never been in the United States before landing in Washington Sept. 22. He was welcomed to the White House and became the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress. He joined leaders of other religions in honoring the dead and comforting their surviving family members at ground zero in New York. He addressed the United Nations.
And, in Philadelphia, using a lectern once used by Abraham Lincoln, he called for respect for religious freedom and for ethnic and cultural differences.
At home and abroad, Pope Francis scrutinizes people and identifies something good and beautiful in them. He affirms their core concerns, and he challenges them to grow.
For the Catholic Church – in the United States as elsewhere – the key challenge is “not about building walls, but about breaking them down,” as he told the bishops, clergy and religious of Pennsylvania Sept. 26.