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September 24, 2015

Covering Pope Francis in America -
His arrival in Washington -
Canonization of Padre Junipero Serra -
Papal speech to Congress -
Pope's visit to Cuba

In this edition:
1. White House welcomes pope.
2. Quoting pope's speech to Congress.
3. Bishops, shepherds of dialogue.
4. Bishops and challenging issues.
5. Immigration and life issues.
6. Canonization of Junipero Serra.
7. Bringing papacy's themes to Cuba.
8. Cuba: How Christians serve.
9. Quotes from Cuba visit:
a) Cuba and the U.S.
b) On encountering others.
10. Cuba: Hope is bold.

1. White House Welcome for Pope Francis

"As the son of an immigrant family," Pope Francis told President Obama Sept. 23 that he was "happy to be a guest" in the United States, "which was largely built by such families."

Speaking during a White House welcoming ceremony, Pope Francis briefly mentioned several key themes of his papacy such as care for the environment, social justice, poverty and religious liberty.

"I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world, and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity, which God wills for all his children," the pope told the large crowd assembled on the White House south lawn.

Pope Francis said that American Catholics, together with their fellow citizens, "are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination."

A degree of controversy emerged in the days leading up to the pope's arrival in the United States, controversy related in part to his views on care for the planet addressed in the encyclical "Laudato Si'." Certain commentators lambasted him for his views on this.

Pope Francis spoke directly on the environment in his White House remarks. "I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution," he told President Obama.

The pope said it seems clear to him "that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation." He added:

"When it comes to the care of our 'common home,' we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change."

Notably, he said that this kind of change demands "a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them."

Pope Francis added that, "to use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it."

The issue of religious liberty raised by Pope Francis at the White House is of particular interest to U.S. bishops, whose objections to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act are well known.

Along with "countless other people of good will," American Catholics are "concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty," the pope stated. This freedom, he said, "remains one of America's most precious possessions."

President Obama recalled during the White House ceremony that from his "time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago" to his "travels as president," he has "seen firsthand how, every day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns and laity feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, educate our children and fortify the faith that sustains so many."

The president said, "Just as the church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, it has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression."

2. Quotes From Papal Speech to Congress

Good Political Leaders: "A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces. . . . Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics." (Pope Francis, speaking Sept. 24 to the U.S. Congress)

Four Americans: "My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. . . . They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. . . . These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. . . . I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. . . . Four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and nonexclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. . . . A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did; when it fosters a culture which enables people to 'dream' of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace, in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton." (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

The Golden Rule: "Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us." (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

Care for the Environment: "In [the encyclical] Laudato Si', I call for a courageous and responsible effort to 'redirect our steps' and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. . . . Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies aimed at implementing a 'culture of care' and 'an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.'" (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

Combating Violence: "No religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. . . . We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place." (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

Immigrants: "We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. . . . When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our 'neighbors' and everything around us." (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

The Family: "How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened . . . from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life. In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems." (Pope Francis to U.S. Congress)

3. Bishops, Shepherds of Dialogue and Service

"Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion," Pope Francis said in a Sept. 23 Washington speech to the U.S. bishops. He recommended that they be "pastors close to people, pastors who are neighbors and servants."

"Dialogue is our method," he stressed in discussing the role he and the bishops share as shepherds. Dialogue, he explained, is not "a shrewd strategy." Rather, dialogue is pursued "out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the 11th hour, to propose his offer of love."

Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to dialogue among themselves and with their priests, laypersons, families and society. "I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly," he said.

In their dialogue with priests, the pope encouraged the bishops to "support them so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart." In supporting priests, bishops should not "let them be content with half-measures," but ought to "find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats," he said.

Unless a path of dialogue is pursued, the worth of the people whom shepherds serve will not be grasped fully, the pope made clear. Explaining this, he said that if shepherds do not "set out on that 'exodus' which is necessary for all authentic dialogue," they will "fail to understand the thinking of others or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain."

Pope Francis told the bishops he neither intended "to offer a plan or to devise a strategy" for them nor to judge them or lecture them. "Allow me only, in the freedom of love, to speak to you as a brother among brothers," he said.

In not wishing to tell them "what to do," he pointed out, in any event, that "we all know what it is that the Lord asks of us." Instead, he wanted to "turn once again to the demanding task . . . of seeking out the paths we need to take and the spirit with which we need to work."

4. Bishops and Today's Challenging Issues

Bishops seek their identity in "constant prayer, in preaching and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care," the pope said in his Washington speech to the U.S. bishops. Their preaching, however, "is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake."

Pope Francis stressed that the "style" of the bishops' mission should make their hearers feel that the message they preach "is meant 'for us.'" The church's shepherds, he cautioned, "fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us."

But "we also know that we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity," he said. "So we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by fear."

It is essential to realize that bishops "are promoters of the culture of encounter," the pope suggested. "We are living sacraments of the embrace between God's riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response."

Harsh, divisive language "does not befit the tongue of a pastor" and "has no place in his heart," said Pope Francis. For, while such language "may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing."

He suggested, too, that in watching over themselves, bishops need "to flee the temptation of narcissism." Narcissism, he said, will blind a bishop's eyes and make his "voice unrecognizable and his actions fruitless."

Bishops, as pastors, "know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world," and they "know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth," the pope remarked. Bishops see the fear of life that people experience, "their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise."

Thus, he continued, "only a church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others." But this is not just any fire. It is, the pope said, the fire "which blazed forth on Easter morn."

What is more, he said, "the risen Lord continues to challenge the church's pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters" who ask, "Have you something to eat?"

5. Immigration and Life Issues

The plight of immigrants was at the heart of one recommendation Pope Francis made to the U.S. bishops in his Washington speech.

"The church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these 'pilgrims,'" the pope said. He told the bishops, "From the beginning you have learned their languages, promoted their cause, made their contributions your own, defended their rights, helped them to prosper and kept alive the flame of their faith."

Even now, the pope acknowledged, "no American institution does more for immigrants than your Christian communities." And now, he said, "you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses."

Speaking not only as bishop of Rome, "but also as a pastor from the South," Pope Francis said he felt "the need to thank and encourage you." Perhaps the diversity of so many immigrants will pose challenges, he stated. "But know that they also possess resources meant to be shared," and "do not be afraid to welcome them," he urged.

His recommendation was to offer immigrants "the warmth of the love of Christ" and in this way to "unlock the mystery" of their hearts. He concluded, "I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its church."

Pope Francis expressed appreciation for "the unfailing commitment of the church in America to the cause of life and that of the family."

Referring to the sexual abuse crisis in the church but without naming it explicitly, he said he is "conscious of the courage" with which the bishops "have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice."

Pope Francis realized, he added, "how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you" and noted that he has "supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims -- in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed -- and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated."

Pope Francis encouraged the bishops "to confront the challenging issues of our time." He mentioned challenges such as these:

"The innocent victim of abortion."

"Children who die of hunger or from bombings."

"Immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow."

"The elderly or the sick who are considered a burden."

"The victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking."

"The environment devastated by man's predatory relationship with nature"

6. Canonization of Junipero Serra

In his homily for the Sept. 23 canonization in Washington of Padre Junipero Serra, Pope Francis spoke of the 18th century Franciscan missionary, who founded a number of California's missions, as "the embodiment of 'a church which goes forth.'" Speaking in Spanish during a Mass celebrated largely in Spanish, the pope said that Father Serra is someone who "learned how to bring to birth and nurture God's life in the faces of everyone he met."

Not surprisingly, evangelization was the theme of the pope's canonization homily. He even highlighted evangelization as a path to happiness for evangelizers.

He asked: "We don't want apathy to guide our lives -- or do we? 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?"

Jesus "gives the answer," the pope continued. Jesus "said to his disciples then and says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it way, through giving ourselves away."

Jesus "always embraced life as he saw it." Pope Francis said that "in faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin," and "in faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity," Jesus embraced life. Jesus wanted his followers to "tell the good news to everyone."

Some critics did not support Father Serra's canonization, holding that the Spanish missionary and other missionaries of that time damaged Native American culture and served as agents of oppression.

Others who defended Father Serra, however, said that he did far more than generally is known to support and defend Native Americans against the dictates of the Spanish colonial governors.

Franciscan Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, participated in the canonization Mass. He said in a July 31 interview with Catholic News Service that Father Serra's missionary endeavors may have had "unintended consequences" and may have employed methods contrary to people's sensibilities today.

Father Perry told CNS: "I think we need to make sure this canonization is not simply a chance to validate maybe some bad things that happened, but to challenge us always to enter into a process of reform, of conversion and of authentic dialogue with cultures, with peoples everywhere."

The canonization will be a blessing, he said, if Catholics "take a step back, take a deep breath and recognize that in history, at times, mistakes have been made. We're human beings."

Father Perry said that Father Serra "was a man of his time," who understood mission as almost everyone in the church understood it in the 18th century and, in fact, basically until the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis said in his homily that "Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work." The motto was, "Keep moving forward!" Father Serra "kept moving forward," the pope stated, "because the Lord was waiting. He kept going because his brothers and sisters were waiting."

7. Pope Brings Papacy's Themes to Cuba

Once a person feels "the gaze of Jesus," others no longer are "to be 'lived off,' used and abused," Pope Francis said on the third day of his visit to Cuba. Jesus' gaze gives rise to "service, self-giving."

Thus, in his homily Sept. 21 in the Plaza de la Revolucion in the Cuban city of Holguin, the pope accented the theme of service, a theme he also emphasized the day before in a homily given in Havana's similarly named Plaza de la Revolucion.

During his days in the island nation, Pope Francis seemed determined to bring the familiar themes of his papacy to the Cuban people in compelling ways. He spoke of service and mercy, justice, human dignity, the family, forgiveness and the importance of the poor in the Christian vision of life, for example.

The Gospel reading for the Mass in Holguin's plaza told of the calling of the apostle Matthew. "On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by and 'looked at him,'" said the pope.

The pope continued, "How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table!"

That is how Pope Francis introduced the topic of his homily: the gaze of Jesus. What happens, he asked, when Jesus gazes upon anyone? The call of Matthew, he said, "shows us an exchange of glances capable of changing history."

The gaze of Jesus "transforms our way of seeing things," the pope observed. He said that "even if we dare not raise our eyes to the Lord, he always looks at us first."

The pope added that the gaze of Jesus sees "beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness." What Jesus sees is the person's dignity, "our dignity as sons and daughters."

He urged those present in Holguin's plaza to "gaze upon the Lord . . . in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned." See others as Jesus sees them, the pope urged.

Thus, he encouraged them to share Jesus' "tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty." He explained, "We are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father."

The gaze of Jesus "transforms our hearts," Pope Francis remarked. Jesus "invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change." The pope said that a challenge comes from Jesus in the form of these questions:

"Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe it is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?"

8. How Christians Serve: The Pope in Cuba

What do Christians who serve others actually do? Pope Francis answered that question in detail in his homily Sept. 20 during a Mass in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion. He discussed not only what service is but what it is not.

The pope said to his Cuban listeners that Jesus is someone who "takes up our searching, our aspirations" and "gives them a new horizon." However, "far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points" is not just "for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality."

Rather, this horizon "has to do with daily life."

Jesus upset the mind-set of his disciples, who had been arguing over who was most important, "by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbor -- that is, by serving," said Pope Francis.

He explained that service means caring for others who are vulnerable. It means "caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people." Theirs "are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which he asks us to love."

It is important to realize, however, that the love Jesus calls for is "a love which takes shape" in our actions and decisions. And Jesus calls for "a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform."

Pope Francis said, "It is people of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty, that Jesus asks us to protect, to care for and to serve." The pope repeated in Cuba his constant message that "being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it."

He cautioned, however, against the temptation to service that is "self-serving." For, he said, "there is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping 'my people,' 'our people.' This service always leaves 'your people' outside and gives rise to a process of exclusion."

Moreover, the pope stressed, "service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people."

To care for others "out of love" is not a matter of "being servile," Pope Francis stated. What it does mean, though, is "putting the question of our brothers and sisters at the center." He added:

"Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, 'suffers' that closeness and tries to help them."

9. Quotes From the Cuba Visit

Cuba and the United States: "For some months now we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement. It is a process, a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue. . . . I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world." (Pope Francis speaking Sept. 19 in the presence of Cuban leaders at Havana's Jose Marti airport upon his arrival in Cuba)

On Leaving Home and Encountering Others: "We are invited [like the Virgin Mary, who left home to visit her cousin Elizabeth after the Annunciation] to 'leave home' and to open our eyes and hearts to others. Our revolution comes about through tenderness, through the joy which always becomes closeness and compassion -- which is not pity, but suffering with, so as to free -- and leads us to get involved in, and to serve, the life of others. Our faith makes us leave our homes and go forth to encounter others, to share their joys, their hopes and their frustrations. Our faith 'calls us out of our house' to visit the sick, the prisoner and those who mourn. It makes us able to laugh with those who laugh and rejoice with our neighbors who rejoice. Like Mary, we want to be a church which serves, which leaves home and goes forth, which goes forth from its chapels, forth from its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity of a noble and worthy people. Like Mary, Mother of Charity, we want to be a church which goes forth to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation. Like Mary, we want to be a church which can accompany all those 'pregnant' situations of our people, committed to life, to culture, to society, not washing our hands but rather walking together with our brothers and sisters." (From the homily of Pope Francis Sept. 21 at the Shrine of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre in Santiago de Cuba)

10. Hope Is Bold: The Pope in Cuba

Speaking to Cuban youths Sept. 20 in Havana, the capital city, Pope Francis attempted not only to accent the necessity of hope, but to describe this virtue's very workings. "Don't forget to dream," he exhorted the youths. "Dream that you can make the world different."

It quickly became clear after the pope arrived in Cuba Sept. 19 that he did not intend simply to read prewritten speeches to the people. His ad-libbed remarks to the youths in Havana, however, echoed his prepared speech fairly well.

Hope, Pope Francis explained in his ad-libbed observations, should not be understood as easy optimism. Rather, hope requires effort and the willingness to sacrifice and perhaps suffer for a goal.

The pope wanted the youths to realize first that true hope is not easy and, second, that they need to travel the path of hope with others. He repeated an African proverb that says:

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to walk far, go with someone."

Pope Francis said, "I want you to walk with each other." He urged them to walk together not just with those who think exactly as they do but with those who "have different points of view."

He urged the youths to try to talk first with these others "about what we have in common." After that, he said, "we can talk about our differences." However, he said, "this is only possible when we have the ability to dialogue."

The pope's prepared speech for the youths described hope as "bold," a virtue able to look beyond "the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon." Hope looks to the future, but it also is empowered by memory, the memory of the past that reminds people who they really are, he suggested.

He advised the youths that "a path of hope calls for a culture of encounter, dialogue, which can overcome conflict and sterile confrontation." The world needs the "culture of encounter," Pope Francis stressed. "It needs young people who seek to know and love one another, to journey together in building" their country.

Also, he pointed out, a culture of encounter "should naturally lead to a culture of solidarity." The pope said, "Do not be afraid of solidarity, service and offering a helping hand so that no one is excluded from the path."

He insisted that "without solidarity, no country has a future." He said, "Beyond all other considerations or interests, there has to be concern for that person who may be my friend, my companion, but also someone who may think differently than I do, someone . . . just as human and just as Cuban as I am."

The pope was calling not just for "simple tolerance." Rather, he said, "we have to go well beyond that, passing from a suspicious and defensive attitude to one of acceptance, cooperation, concrete service and effective assistance."